You've got to get out and walk. Walk, and you will see that many of the assumptions on which the projects depend are visibly wrong. You will see, for example; that a worthy and well-kept institutional center does not necessarily upgrade its surroundings. (Look at the blight-engulfed urban universities, or the petered-out environs of such ambitious landmarks as the civic auditorium in St. Louis and the downtown mall in Cleveland.) You will see that suburban amenity is not what people seek downtown. (Look at Pittsburghers by the thousands climbing forty-two steps to enter the very urban Mellon Square, but balking at crossing the street into the ersatz suburb of Gateway Center.)
You will see that it is not the nature of downtown to decentralize. Notice how astonishingly small a place it is; how abruptly it gives way, outside the small, high-powered core, to underused area. Its tendency is not to fly apart but to become denser, more compact. Nor is this tendency some leftover from the past; the number of people working within the cores has been on the increase, and given the long-term growth in white-collar work it will continue so. The tendency to become denser is a fundamental quality of downtown and it persists for good and sensible reasons.
If you get out and walk, you see all sorts of other clues. Why is the hub of downtown such a mixture of things? Why do office workers on New York's handsome Park Avenue turn off to Lexington or Madison Avenue at the first corner they reach? Why is a good steak house usually in an old building? Why are short blocks apt to be busier than long ones?
It is the premise of this article that the best way to plan for downtown is to see how people use it today; to look for its strengths and to exploit and reinforce them. There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans. This does not mean accepting the present; downtown does need an overhaul, it is dirty, it is congested. But there are things that are right about it too, and by simple old-fashioned observation we can see what they are. We can see what people like.
I love this cutaway view of Washington DC's Evening Star Building, drawn in 1922. The building is on the National Register as a Historic Landmark and was formerly the office of The Washington Star newspaper.
Best viewed huge. The whole thing is a fascinating view of how information flowed through a newspaper company in the 1920s. Raw materials in the form of electricity, water, telegraph messages, paper, and employees enter the building and finished newspapers leave out the back.
Found this via Craig Mod, who notes the Chris Ware-ness of the whole thing.
In the early 1930s, Western Union and AT&T built two new buildings in lower Manhattan to house their telecommunications infrastructure. Here's a short film about their construction and ongoing use as hubs for contemporary telecom and internet communications.
Amazing that those buildings are still being used for the same use all these years later...they just run newer and newer technology through the same old conduits.
You may have previously read about the Citicorp Center. Joe Morgenstern wrote about the Manhattan skyscraper in a classic New Yorker piece from 1995. The building was built incorrectly and might have blown over in a stiff wind if not for a timely intervention on the part of a mystery architecture student and the head structural engineer on the project.
Tells about designer William J. LeMessurier, who was structural consultant to the architect Hugh Stubbins, Jr. They set their 59-story tower on four massive nine-story-high stilts and used an unusual, chevron-shaped system of wind braces. LeMessurier had established the strength of those braces in perpendicular winds. Now, in the spirit of intellectual play, in his Harvard class, he wanted to see if they were just as strong in winds hitting from 45 degrees. He discovered the design flaw and during wind tunnel tests in Ontario learned the weakest joint was at the building's 30th floor.
The whole piece is here and well worth a read. Last month, the excellent 99% Invisible did a radio show about Citicorp Center and added a new bit of information to the story: the identity of the mystery student who prodded LeMessurier to think more deeply about the structural integrity of his building. (via @bdeskin, who apparently factchecked Morgenstern's piece back in the day)
A fake Paris was partially constructed near the real Paris at the end of World War I in the hopes of confusing German planes who were looking to bomb the City of Lights.
The story of Sham Paris may have been "broken" in The Illustrated London News of 6 November 1920 in a remarkably titled photo essay, "A False Paris Outside Paris -- a 'City' Created to be Bombed". There were to be sham streets lined with electric lights, sham rail stations, sham industry, open to a sham population waiting to be bombed by real Germans. It is a perverse city, filled with the waiting-to-be-murdered in a civilian target.
I love this rendering of an abandoned Paris Metro station reimagined as a swimming pool:
This and several other renderings were created by OXO Associates for Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet's Paris mayoral race. The others imagine subway stations turned into theaters, nightclubs, and underground parks.
I've got a soft spot for Photoshopped architecture photos, so Zacharie Gaudrillot-Roy's Façades series is right up my alley. Gaudrillot-Roy removes the volume of buildings until they're left with just their façades.
For the past few years, UK police have used a secret network of fully furnished fake houses to snare burglars. They're called capture houses.
Based in the city of Rotherham, Stopford explained to me the hit-and-miss nature of a capture house. Some of the fake apartments have been open for as little for one day before being hit by burglars, and as long as nearly a year without being broken into even once. As Stopford went on to describe, these otherwise uninhabited residences are fully stocked, complete with electronic equipment, lights on timers, and bare but functional furniture, and they tend to be small apartments located in multi-unit housing blocks.
That apartment you pass everyday on the fourth floor, in other words, might not be an apartment at all, really, but an elaborate trap run by the police, bristling inside with tiny surveillance cameras and ready to spray invisible chemical markings onto anyone who steps inside-or slips in through the window, as the case may be.
The secret to Roman concrete lies in its unique mineral formulation and production technique. As the researchers explain in a press release outlining their findings, "The Romans made concrete by mixing lime and volcanic rock. For underwater structures, lime and volcanic ash were mixed to form mortar, and this mortar and volcanic tuff were packed into wooden forms. The seawater instantly triggered a hot chemical reaction. The lime was hydrated -- incorporating water molecules into its structure -- and reacted with the ash to cement the whole mixture together."
The Portland cement formula crucially lacks the lyme and volcanic ash mixture. As a result, it doesn't bind quite as well when compared with the Roman concrete, researchers found. It is this inferior binding property that explains why structures made of Portland cement tend to weaken and crack after a few decades of use, Jackson says.
The most amazing is the spiral escalator made by Mitsubishi Electric. Curving escalators were conceived from early on when escalators were invented, but they are very difficult and even today Mitsubishi Electric is the only one in the world who can make them. If I hadn't come across this spiral escalator in Yokohama I don't think I would have committed myself to escalators as much as I have.
If this photo series from 1950 of the interior of the White House being ripped out so that the building could be structurally reinforced isn't an apt metaphor for the current state of American politics, I don't know what is.
Experts called the third floor of the White House "an outstanding example of a firetrap." The result of a federally commissioned report found the mansion's plumbing "makeshift and unsanitary," while "the structural deterioration [was] in 'appalling degree,' and threatening complete collapse." The congressional commission on the matter was considering the option of abandoning the structure altogether in favor of a built-from-scratch mansion, but President Truman lobbied for the restoration.
"It perhaps would be more economical from a purely financial standpoint to raze the building and to rebuild completely," he testified to Congress in February 1949. "In doing so, however, there would be destroyed a building of tremendous historical significance in the growth of the nation."
So it had to be gutted. Completely. Every piece of the interior, including the walls, had to be removed and put in storage. The outside of the structure-reinforced by new concrete columns-was all that remained.
Scarry moved to Switzerland in 1968, and if nothing else, Swiss architecture permeates the old town center of What Do People Do All Day. The Town Hall of Busytown on the cover is nothing if not Tudor. There is a small gate through which a small car is driving. Something to note about the vehicles in Busytown is that they are all just the right size for the number of passengers they carry. The Bus on the cover is full, with a hanger-on. The taxi holds one driver in the front and one passenger in the rear. The police officer (Seargant Murphy) is riding a motorcycle. When he has a passenger, the motorcycle always has a sidecar. Similarly, each window in town has someone in it, sometimes more than one person. Of course, this is a busy town, so the activity makes sense. The cover of this includes the grocery store, butcher, and baker (no supermarkets in 1968 Busytown), one block in front of Town Hall. One thing to note about the Butcher is that he is a pig, and clearly butchering sausages.
Nonetheless, Busytown is a place that works. Literally, in that it appears to enjoy full employment, and also in the sense that it has few obvious social problems. The police force, consisting of Sergeant Murphy, Policeman Louie and their chief, is charged with 'keeping things safe and peaceful' and 'protecting the townspeople from harm', which appears to largely consist of directing traffic, ticketing hoons and apprehending the town's notorious thief, Gorilla Banana [sic].
Now of course one could opine that it's in fact diffuse surveillance and self-surveillance that keep such remarkable order. All those open windows and doors, all that neighbourly cheerfulness, have a slightly sinister edge to them, if you're inclined to look for it, as do the lengths that some of the citizens will go to in order to promote proper behaviour amongst children.
Traffic officer reported busiest traffic jam ever at intersection of Main and Hippopotamus. Gridlock started when a peanut car stalled in the intersection and the elderly cricket driver was unable to restart the vehicle. Officer and several drivers assisted the elderly cricket in moving his vehicle to the side of the road, where it was then struck by an alligator car driven by a female rabbit. Officer reported smelling alcohol in the female rabbit's breath and placed her in handcuffs until backup arrived. Officers then cleared the jam with the aid of two tow trucks.
I moved to the West Village in 2002 and, after a few stops in other neighborhoods around the city, moved back a couple years ago. Walking around the neighborhood these days, I'm amazed at how much has changed in 10 years. Sometimes it seems as though every single store front has turned over in the interim. (via @kathrynyu)
This morning I was in an elevator with a woman who was listening to her messages on speakerphone. Lucky for me, the ride was only a couple floors. I'm not sure I could've lasted if the elevator ride were, say, a mile long. Atlantic Cities Nate Berg asks the experts: Is there a limit to how tall buildings can get? (We already know there's no limit to poor elevator etiquette.)
Building Stories imagines the inhabitants of a three-story Chicago apartment building: a 30-something woman who has yet to find someone with whom to spend the rest of her life; a couple, possibly married, who wonder if they can bear each other's company another minute; and the building's landlady, an elderly woman who has lived alone for decades. Taking advantage of the absolute latest advances in wood pulp technology, Building Stories is a book with no deliberate beginning nor end, the scope, ambition, artistry and emotional prevarication beyond anything yet seen from this artist or in this medium, probably for good reason.
This may sound impossible, but BSB has been constructing buildings quickly by making parts ahead of time and then just putting them together on site. Prefab skyscrapers. In the past two years, the company has built a 15-story building in 6 days and a 30-story hotel in just 15 days:
After opening, the new bridge shortly came to be known as "Galloping Gertie," so named by white-knuckled motorists who braved the writhing bridge on windy days. Even in a light breeze, Gertie's undulations were known to produce waves up to ten feet tall. Sometimes these occurrences were brief, and other times they lasted for hours at a time. Numerous travelers shunned the route altogether to avoid becoming seasick, whereas many thrill-seeking souls paid the 75-cent toll to traverse Gertie during her more spirited episodes.
I first heard about the Buzludzha monument (pronounced Buz'ol'ja) last summer when I was attending a photo festival in Bulgaria. Alongside me judging a photography competition was Alexander Ivanov, a Bulgarian photographer who had gained national notoriety after spending the last 10 years shooting 'Bulgaria from the Air'. Back then he showed me some pictures of what looked to me like a cross between a flying saucer and Doctor Evil's hideout perched atop a glorious mountain range.
BLDGBLOG is running a distributed film festival called Breaking Out and Breaking In that will explore the architecture of escapes and break-ins in movies.
Breaking Out and Breaking In is an exploration of the use and misuse of space in escapes and heists, where architecture is the obstacle between you and what you're looking for.
Watch the films at home-or anywhere you may be-and then come back to discuss the films here on BLDGBLOG. It's a "distributed" film fest; there is no central venue, just a curated list of films and a list of days on which to watch them. There's no set time, no geographic exclusion, and no limit to the food breaks or repeated scenes you might require. And it all leads up to a public discussion at Studio-X NYC on Tuesday, April 24.
The overall idea is to discuss breaking out and breaking in as spatial scenarios that operate as mirror images of one another, each process with its own tools, techniques, and unique forms of unexpected architectural expertise.
It started on Friday, but there's still plenty of time and opportunity to join in.
Economist Jason Barr and his colleagues measured the bedrock depth in Manhattan and correlated it with building height. In doing so, they busted the long-held belief that there were no skyscrapers between Midtown and the Financial District because of insufficient bedrock.
What the economists found was that some of the tallest buildings of their day were built around City Hall, where the bedrock reaches its deepest point in the city, about 45 meters down, between there and Canal Street, at which point the bedrock begins to rise again toward the middle of the island. Indeed, Joseph Pullitzer built his record-setting New York World Building, a 349-foot colossus, at 99 Park Row, near the nadir, as did Frank Woolworth a decade later.
If you've ever been to downtown Minneapolis, you've likely used the large network of above-grade covered walkways that now stretches into nearly every corner of the downtown area. I'd always assumed they were built to help downtown workers and residents avoid cold weather during the winter, but that's not the case.
Rather, the skyway system originally emerged from a twofold desire. First, planners in the 1940s and 50s were very concerned about managing increasingly dense pedestrian flows, and viewed skyways as a way to maximize the use of urban space for both people and automobiles (Byers 1998 154). Second, business owners were interested in maximizing their property values, and saw the skyways an opportunity to double the amount of valuable retail space in their downtown buildings (Byers 1998 159).
I used to work in downtown Minneapolis, and the skyways were great in the winter. To be able to take a walk and get lunch without having to bundle up in coat, hat, mittens, scarf, etc. was almost like living in a warm climate...and that's no small thing during a long, dark Mpls winter. (via ★than)
Before Ice Cube became a rapper, he studied architectural drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology, so he has some interesting things to say in this short appreciation of Charles and Ray Eames.
They was doing mashups before mashups even existed. It's not about the pieces, it's how the pieces work together. You know, taking something that already exist and making it something special. You know, kinda like sampling.
The company was obviously under tight constraints as to what they could do with the store (they would have loved to encase the whole thing in plexiglass probably), but from the looks of things, they did a marvelous job. There's so little styling -- the whole store is just tables and screens mostly -- that it looks like the Apple Store not only belongs there, but that it's been there forever, like Grand Central was designed with the Apple Store in mind. If you walk around Grand Central, not a lot of the other retail locations can say that, if any. (photo by katie sokoler)
The distance between the metal bands holding the cylindrical structure together decreases from top to bottom because the pressure the water exerts increases with depth. The top band only needs to fight against the water at the very top of the tower but the bottom bands have to hold the entire volume from bursting out.
A couple years ago, I pointed to a 10-minute clip of a longer documentary called The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces. Some kind soul has put the whole thing up on YouTube:
This witty and original film is about the open spaces of cities and why some of them work for people while others don't. Beginning at New York's Seagram Plaza, one of the most used open areas in the city, the film proceeds to analyze why this space is so popular and how other urban oases, both in New York and elsewhere, measure up. Based on direct observation of what people actually do, the film presents a remarkably engaging and informative tour of the urban landscape and looks at how it can be made more hospitable to those who live in it.
There's been a lot written about Steve Jobs in the past week, a lot of it worthy of reading, but one piece you probably didn't see is David Galbraith's piece on Jobs' similarity to architect Norman Foster. The essay is a bit all over the place, which replicates the experience of talking to David in person, but it's littered with insight and goodness (ditto).
The answer is what might be called the sand pile model and it operated at Apple and Fosters, the boss sits independently from the structural hierarchy, to some extent, and can descend at random on a specific element at will. The boss maintains control of the overall house style by cleaning up the edges at the same time as having a vision for the whole, like trying to maintain a sand pile by scooping up the bits that fall off as it erodes in the wind. This is the hidden secret of design firms or prolific artists, the ones where journalists or historians agonize whether a change in design means some new direction when it just means that there was a slip up in maintaining the sand pile.
And I love this paragraph, which integrates Foster, Jobs, the Soviet Union, Porsche, Andy Warhol, Lady Gaga, and even an unspoken Coca-Cola into an extended analogy:
Perfecting the model of selling design that is compatible with big business, Foster simultaneously grew one of the largest architecture practices in the world while still winning awards for design excellence. The secret was to design buildings like the limited edition, invite only Porsches that Foster drove and fellow Porsche drivers would commission them. Jobs went further, however, he managed to create products that were designed like Porsches and made them available to everyone, via High Tech that transcended stylistic elements. An Apple product really was high technology and its form followed function, it went beyond the Porsche analogy by being truly fit for purpose in a way that a Porsche couldn't, being a car designed for a speed that you weren't allowed to drive. Silicon Valley capitalism had arguably delivered what the Soviets had dreamed of and failed, modernism for the masses. An iPhone really is the best phone you can buy at any price. To paraphrase Andy Warhol: Lady Gaga uses an iPhone, and just think, you can have an iPhone too. An iPhone is an iPhone and no amount of money can get you a better phone. This was what American modernism was about.
The Kirkbride plan consists of an enormous a symmetrical staggered wing, like a bird made out of lego. Men are on the left and women on the right in wings that radiate from the main entrance for increasingly violent or incurable patients. Early mental institutions where patients had to pay for their own incarceration would also vary in class (rich to poor) on the y axis. The staggering of the wings ensured the flow of air through each, purging them of diseased vapors perhaps, such was the Victorian obsession with fresh air, from outdoor Tuberculosis wards to seaside promenades and piers.
Over the course of more than fifteen years, architect and critic Michael Sorkin has taken an almost daily twenty-minute walk from his apartment near Washington Square in New York's Greenwich Village to his architecture studio further downtown in Tribeca. This walk has afforded abundant opportunities for Sorkin to reflect on the ongoing transformation of the neighbourhoods through which he passes. Inspired by events both mundane and monumental, Twenty Minutes in Manhattan unearths a network of relationships between the physical and the social city.
Here's a chapter listing:
145 Hudson Street
Robert Campbell, the architecture critic for the Boston Globe, says of the book:
Not since the great Jane Jacobs has there been a book this good about the day-to-day life of New York. Sorkin writes like an American Montaigne, riffing freely off his personal experience (sometimes happy, sometimes frustrating) to arrive at general insights about New York and about cities everywhere.
In Singapore, many apartment buildings have empty open-air ground floors called "void decks" that get put to a variety of uses: day-care, weddings, bicycle parking, small stores, etc.
More than 80% of Singapore's population lives in public housing, in buildings designed to government specifications. And Singapore's government ensures that every apartment building mirrors the country's ethnic mix, with Chinese, Malays, and Indians living as neighbors in proportion to their share of the population -- 77%, 14%, and 8% respectively. The void deck ensures that everyone gets to know each other, and each other's cultures. As the Times puts it, its pleasures are actually "part of Singapore's strictly enforced social policies aimed at ensuring harmony among the races in a region often torn by religious and ethnic strife."
In 1916, Kennard Thomson, consulting engineer and urban planner for New York City, wrote an article for Popular Mechanics in which he advocated (among other things) filling in the East River to merge Manhattan with Brooklyn.
By Dr Thomson's estimates, enlarging New York according to his plans would cost more than digging the Panama Canal - but the returns would quickly repay the debt incurred and make New York the richest city in the world. He then goes on to describe how he would reclaim all that land. The plan's larger outlines: move the East River east, and build coffer dams from the Battery at Manhattan's southern tip to within a mile of Staten Island, on the other side of the Upper Bay, and the area in between them filled up with sand. This would enlarge Manhattan to an island several times its present size.
Proximity and easy access to the new Battery would increase the total land value of Staten Island from $50 million to $500 million. "This would help pay the expenses of the project," Dr Thomson suggests.
The project would also add large areas of land to Staten Island itself, to Sandy Hook on the Jersey shore just south of there and create a new island somewhere in between. The East River, separating Manhattan from Queens and Brooklyn, would be filled and replaced by a new canal east of there, slicing through Long Island from Flushing to Jamaica Bays.
If you liked the video mapping on the IAC building, this one might be even better. For the 600th anniversary of the construction of the tower clock in Prague, The Macula projected a really great video on the tower...watch at least through the brick stacking animation.
That's right, the Washington Monument was the tallest building in the world for about five years before the Eiffel Tower, at almost double the height of the Washington Monument, took over the top spot for more than 40 years. (via modcult)
Action was finally taken in 1992 (bracing the first storey with steel tendons, to relieve strain on its vulnerable masonry) and in 1993 (stacking 600 tons of lead ingots on the piazza to the tower's north, to counterweight the lean). Yet both measures, especially the lead ingots, riled the aesthete Italian public, deforming as they did the slender tower's bella figura.
In response, in 1995, the committee opted for 10 underground steel anchors, to invisibly yank the tower northwards. Little did they know, though, this would bring the tower closer to collapse than ever before, in an episode now known as Black September.
The secret ingredient that makes the mortar so strong and durable is amylopectin, a type of polysaccharide, or complex carbohydrate, found in rice and other starchy foods, the scientists determined. The mortar's potency is so impressive that it can still be used today as a suitable restoration mortar for ancient masonry.
A new Subway has recently opened in Manhattan...hanging on the outside of the 27th floor of the skeleton of 1 World Trade Center. The Subway will move upwards as the building is constructed and it is hoped that construction workers will dine there instead of heading off-site for long lunches via a slow hoist.
"I don't think the veggies will be a big seller," said Mr. Schragger, who owns four other Subways in Manhattan. "I imagine most of the guys will want protein. Philly Cheesesteaks and the Feast."
Philly Cheesesteaks and the Feast would be a great name for a band.
In Hong Kong, cars drive on the left while in the rest of China, they drive on the right. If you're building a bridge between the two, you've got to come up with a clever way to switch lanes without disruption or accident. Behold, the flipper:
The only way that could be more cool is if one of the lanes went into a tunnel under the water or corkscrewed over the other lane in a rollercoaster/Mario Kart fashion. Lots more on the NL Architects site.
A 22-yo architecture student from The Philippines has "beaten" Sim City 3000 by building a city with the largest possible population that sustains itself for 50,000 years. The city, called Magnasanti, is not somewhere you would want to live.
There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle -- this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It's a sick and twisted goal to strive towards. The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don't rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.
There's something dystopic about the place generally, and CityCenter is starting to feel like the world of Blade Runner come to life. I head back to my room, shut the black-out curtains and lie in bed. More people commit suicide in Las Vegas than in any other city in the United States.
But then, upon his return to NYC:
Drinks at Prime Meats, in Brooklyn, with my wife. Realistically, this place is as much an artifice as anything on the Strip, a re-imagining of a 19th-century saloon, complete with polished bar, antique typography, Edison bulbs. Why, then, does it feel so much more honest? Because its aesthetic is filtered through a contemporary sensibility? Because it seems a natural part of a vibrant neighborhood? Is this all bullshit I invent to make myself feel more comfortable?
It's still unknown exactly why this area -- and this area alone -- should produce such regular lightning. One theory holds that ionized methane gas rising from the Catatumbo bogs is meeting with storm clouds coming down from the Andes, helping to create the perfect conditions for a lightning storm.
With a total of roughly 1.2 million lightning discharges per year, the Relampago del Catatumbo is thought to be the world's greatest producer of ozone. As the lightning rips through the air, it produces nitrogen oxide, which is later converted by sunlight into ozone, which ends up in a protective layer high above the planet.
I learned about this storm from the description of a course that Geoff Manaugh is teaching at Columbia about...what would you call it...geoarchitecture?
The studio will be divided into three groups -- one designing glaciers, one designing islands, one designing storms. Each group will mix vernacular, non-fossil fuel-based building technologies with what sounds like science fiction in order to explore the fine line between architectural design and the amplified cultivation of natural processes.
The largest sealed environment ever created, constructed at a cost of $200 million, and now falling somewhere between David Gissen's idea of subnature -- wherein the slow power of vegetative life is unleashed "as a transgressive animated force against buildings" -- and a bioclimatically inspired Dubai, Biosphere 2 even included its own one million-gallon artificial sea.
Nikolai Sutyagin decided to build himself a home befitting the owner of a lumber and construction company. This resident of Archanglesk, Russia, built a regular Izba, or wooden country dwelling, that was the standard two stories, because anything higher is considered a fire hazard by law. Once complete, he began to add to the roof bit by bit, using leftover lumber from his company. Eventually his home teetered at an unbelievable 12-15 stories, tall enough to view the White Sea from the top. Though Nikolai ran into some trouble with an embezzling employee and jail time for beating up said employee, he and his family are rumored to still dwell in the timber tower, which looks like something out of an Edward Gorey etching.
The ancient Roman vomitorium, or vomitoria, were supposedly places where diners could go and void their stomachs during a meal, in order to make room for more delicacies. There are even detailed descriptions of the rooms, stating that they had large slabs or pillars to lean over that would better facilitate voiding the stomach. Though it might come as a disappointment to preteen boys studying Latin, the vomitorium of such lore is a myth. A true vomitoria is actually a well-designed passage within an ampitheater that allowed large numbers of Romans to file in and out of large spaces quickly. The root of the word, vomere, translates to "spew out," which makes sense when applied to hurried exits.
A couple in London have found the ultimate space-saving solution for a city-dwelling book lover: a staircase bookshelf. UK-based Levitate Architects came up with the page-turning passage as a unique way to augment a loft sleeping space in the attic with discreet storage. If they could create a record crate bathroom, I'd be ready to move in.
There are some architects who theorize that intuitive, adaptable buildings are in our future. These structures might be made of components that adjust to certain variables: a particularly rainy evening, a raucous Super Bowl party on the third floor, or a brutally cold December day. Says German architect Axel Ritter:
Buildings of the future will be able to change colour, size, shape and opacity in reaction to stimuli. Architects will be able to design buildings that change their geometry according to the weight of the people inside.
The use of these reactive materials would alter the relationship between architecture and building behavior. If you're lucky, it might also improve your apartment's laughable square footage.
He keeps his mushroom cultures in test-tubes filled with boiled potato and agar, and initially incubates the spawn on rye or wheat grains in clear plastic bags sealed with sponge anti-mould filters before transferring it to jars, black bin bags, or plastic-wrapped logs; (middle) Shimeji and (bottom) pink oyster mushrooms cropping on racks inside the tunnel. Dr. Arrold came up with the simple but clever idea of growing mushrooms in black bin bags with holes cut in them. Previously, mushrooms were typically grown inside clear plastic bags. The equal exposure to light meant that the mushrooms fruited all over, which made it harder to harvest without missing some
Calling all future-forward architects, urban designers, renegade planners and imaginative engineers: Show us how you would re-invent the suburbs! What would a McMansion become if it weren't a single-family dwelling? How could a vacant big box store be retrofitted for agriculture? What sort of design solutions can you come up with to facilitate car-free mobility, 'burb-grown food, and local, renewable energy generation? We want to see how you'd design future-proof spaces and systems using the suburban structures of the present, from small-scale retrofits to large-scale restoration--the wilder the better!
The root bridges, some of which are over a hundred feet long, take ten to fifteen years to become fully functional, but they're extraordinarily strong -- strong enough that some of them can support the weight of fifty or more people at a time. In fact, because they are alive and still growing, the bridges actually gain strength over time -- and some of the ancient root bridges used daily by the people of the villages around Cherrapunjee may be well over five hundred years old.
The top floor of Corbusier's Villa Stein (one of perhaps the top 500 most important houses of the late 19th/early 20th centuries - i.e. a Van Gogh of houses) is for sale for the same price per sq.ft. (approx $1400) as buildings in the same area of suburban Paris, designed by nobody in particular. Meanwhile, Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for an inflation adjusted price of $136 million yet a poster of similar square footage and style costs around $10.
In terms of signaling, it's difficult to hang a house on one's parlor wall...buying a Corbusier means living in it wherever it happens to be located, at least part of the year.
Not quite a building, but the monumental quality of its form and its polygonal facades lend this Jawa Sandcrawler a building-like presence. These large treaded vehicles have inspired buildings from a Tunisian hotel to Rem Koolhaas' Casa de Musica in Porto.
Another nail house is actually a nail church. Citicorp Center was built without corner columns to accommodate St. Peter's Church, which occupied one corner of the block on which the skyscraper was built. The engineer who built Citicorp Center made a mistake related to the church's accommodation and famously corrected it after the building was built.
Yet as data centers increasingly become the nerve centers of business and society -- even the storehouses of our fleeting cultural memory (that dancing cockatoo on YouTube!) -- the demand for bigger and better ones increases: there is a growing need to produce the most computing power per square foot at the lowest possible cost in energy and resources. All of which is bringing a new level of attention, and challenges, to a once rather hidden phenomenon. Call it the architecture of search: the tens of thousands of square feet of machinery, humming away 24/7, 365 days a year -- often built on, say, a former bean field -- that lie behind your Internet queries.
Conveniently, evil already has a visual language. Put another way: I have seen the face of evil, and it is a caricature of gothic construction. There's barely a necromancer in existence whose dark citadel doesn't in some way reflect real-world Romanian landmarks, such as Hunyad or Bran Castle. The visual theme of these games is so heavily dependent on previously pillaged artistic ideas from Dungeons & Dragons and Tolkien that evil ambiance is delivered by shorthand. (Of course, World of Warcraft's Lich King gets a Stone UFO to fly around in -- but it's still the same old prefab pseudo-Medieval schtick inside). Where the enemy is extra-terrestrial, HR Giger's influence is probably going to be felt instead.
Despite the title of this list, several of these housing projects were designed by some of the world's most famous architects and lauded at the time. The undeniable squalor of 19th Century slums combined with modernism to produce and attempt to clean things up and create a crystalline utopia. The end result was often an anti-septic vision of hell, a place devoid of organic spaces and evolved social interaction.
I researched different types of construction methods involving pile systems and realised that injection piles could probably be used to get the bacteria down into the sand -- a procedure that would be analogous to using an oversized 3D printer, solidifying parts of the dune as needed. The piles would be pushed through the dune surface and a first layer of bacteria spread out, solidifying an initial surface within the dune. They would then be pulled up, creating almost any conceivable (structurally sound) surface along their way, with the loose sand acting as a jig before being excavated to create the necessary voids.
This sounds more like sculpting or baking than architecture.
In 1879, Brooklyn papermaker Robert Gair developed a process for mass producing foldable cardboard boxes. One of the paper-folding machines in his factory malfunctioned and sliced through the paper, leading Gair to the realization that cutting, creasing, and folding in the same series of steps could transform a flat piece of cardboard into a box.
Gair's box, a cheap, light alternative to wood, became "the swaddling clothes of our metropolitan civilization," Lewis Mumford wrote. Eventually, the National Biscuit Compnay introduced its first crackers that stayed crispy in a sealed paper box, and an avalanche of manufacturers followed. Gair expanded to ten buildings on the Brooklyn waterfront. Massive migration from Europe to the United States created a manufacturing workforce in Brooklyn, to curn out ale, coffee, soap, and Brillo pads -- and Gair made boxes right beside them.
Gair's concentrated collection of buildings eventually led the area between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges to be called Gairville. That area is now known as Dumbo and, in addition to tons of residential space, the neighborhood is home not to manufacturing but to architecture firms, web companies, and other creative industries.
The Gair Company's most iconic building was also its last: the Clocktower Building, also known as Gair Building No. 7. I tracked down several of the other Gair buildings and put them on this Google Map.
A family in Porterville, California recently discovered that their new home has an unmapped addition. An underground lair.
They noticed what they suspected was a small sink hole at the corner of a concrete patio slab. As they checked on the hole, Edwards was pulling some weeds nearby.
"His foot just sunk," Barton said, "and that's when we thought we saw a dead body."
Turns out it wasn't a dead body, but some foam insulation. Beneath it, a large space. Everybody thinks it's a subterranean grow room. They're afraid their four-year-old son Ethan will want to play down there.
Also recently unearthed, tunnels belonging to crusaders were found under Malta. Unlike the marijuana-propagating sanctum, these structures are believed to have been designed to facilitate Crusades-era sanitation and to bolster the water supply for the Knights of Malta. Ethan, play here instead.
The Prada Transformer building in Seoul was designed to accommodate events in the spheres of art, architecture, film, and fashion, and it does so in a wholly unusual way: the entire structure somersaults.
From the site's press release:
The Transformer combines the four sides of a tetrahedron: hexagon, cross, rectangle and circle into one pavilion. The building, entirely covered with a smooth elastic membrane, will be flipped using cranes, completely reconfiguring the visitor's experience with each new programme. Each side plan is precisely designed to organize a different event installation creating a building with four identities. Whenever one shape becomes the ground plan, the other three shapes become the walls and the ceiling defining the space, as well as referencing historic or anticipating future event configurations.
From Porch to Patio, a 1975 piece by Richard Thomas, discusses the transition in American society from the semi-public gathering place in front of a house to the private space in the back.
When a family member was on the porch it was possible to invite the passerby to stop and come onto the porch for extended conversation. The person on the porch was very much in control of this interaction, as the porch was seen as an extension of the living quarters of the family. Often, a hedge or fence separated the porch from the street or board sidewalk, providing a physical barrier for privacy, yet low enough to permit conversation.
When people started moving out to new buildings in the suburbs, the patio emerged to provide the privacy for these urban refugees.
The patio was an extension of the house, but far less public than the porch. It was easy to greet a stranger from the porch but exceedingly difficult to do so from the backyard patio. While the porch was designed in an era of slow movement, the patio is part of a world which places a premium on speed and ease of access. The father of a nineteenth-century family might stop on the porch on his way into the house, but the suburban man wishes to enter the house as rapidly as possible to accept the shelter that the house provides from the mass of people he may deal with all day.
In a bid to avoid the wrecking ball, Venturi's Lieb House is traveling by barge from the New Jersey coast to the north shore of Long Island. During the two-day trip, the house will journey through the Atlantic Ocean, across New York Harbor, up the East River, and into Long Island Sound -- a distance of about 75 miles, as the seagull flies.
The floating house will be shown in an upcoming documentary about Venturi, his wife, and their architectural practice. (thx, ed)
The clip shows an analysis of the plaza of the Seagram Building in NYC and what makes it so effective as a small urban space.
A busy place for some reason seems to be the most congenial kind of place if you want to be alone. [...] The number one activity is people looking at other people.
The video was adapted from a book of the same name by William H. Whyte, who is perhaps most well known as the author of The Organization Man. The video is largely out of print -- which is a shame because that clip was fascinating -- but I found a DVD copy for $95 (which price includes a license for public performance). (via migurski)
Short of opening a Radio Shack in an Amish town, Dubai is the world's worst business idea, and there isn't even any oil. Imagine proposing to build Vegas in a place where sex and drugs and rock and roll are an anathema. This is effectively the proposition that created Dubai - it was a stupid idea before the crash, and now it is dangerous.
What's the biggest problem with Dubai? It doesn't have the cultural bedrock needed to support a destination city.
It looks like Manhattan except that it isn't the place that made Mingus or Van Allen or Kerouac or Wolf or Warhol or Reed or Bernstein or any one of the 1001 other cultural icons from Bob Dylan to Dylan Thomas that form the core spirit of what is needed, in the absence of extreme toleration of vice, to infuse such edifices with purpose and create a self-sustaining culture that will prevent them crumbling into the empty desert that surrounds them.
The wall units, which are suspended from steel tracks bolted into the ceiling, seem to float an inch above the reflective black granite floor. As they are shifted around, the apartment becomes all manner of spaces -- kitchen, library, laundry room, dressing room, a lounge with a hammock, an enclosed dining area and a wet bar.
Nobody knows how tall Burj Dubai is going to be when completed later this year, only that it will be the world's tallest building by a comfortable margin. Of the mystery height, the builder has only this to say:
If you put the Empire State Building on top of the Sears Tower then it's reasonable to say you'll be in the neighbourhood.
Passive houses -- homes that use "recycled heat" to heat themselves, rather than a furnace -- are growing more popular in Germany and slowly spreading elsewhere in the world.
The concept of the passive house, pioneered in this city of 140,000 outside Frankfurt, approaches the challenge from a different angle. Using ultrathick insulation and complex doors and windows, the architect engineers a home encased in an airtight shell, so that barely any heat escapes and barely any cold seeps in. That means a passive house can be warmed not only by the sun, but also by the heat from appliances and even from occupants' bodies.
In time for the 2008 Olympics, the world saw the fruits of China's decision to put aside nationalism, hire the greatest architects from around the world, and let them do the kind of things they could never afford to do at home. That brought us two of the greatest buildings of the year, Herzog and de Meuron's extraordinary Olympic Stadium, the stunning steel latticework structure widely known as the Bird's Nest; and Norman Foster's Beijing Airport, a project that was not only bigger than any other airport in the world, but more beautiful, more logically laid out, and more quickly built. And the headquarters of CCTV, the Chinese television network, by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren, of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture -- a building which I had thought was going to be a pretentious piece of structural exhibitionism -- turned out to be a compelling and exciting piece of structural exhibitionism.
Big disagree on Eliasson's NYC waterfalls...they were underwhelming.
Initial designs show a glass-curtained tube with cutaways spiraling up and around the facade to reveal segments of terraced verdure, like cultivated patches on the side of a steep alpine slope. "We didn't just fill up the tower," the architect says. "We've taken space away [from the apartments] to create the gardens," which are actually balconies tucked within the envelope. "It's as if nature has come back into the city," he says.
For the BOk building, Yamasaki reprised the scheme of a Twin Tower at almost exactly half the scale: 52 stories and 667 feet tall, to the Twin Towers' 110 floors (1,362 and 1,368 feet). It has 31 steel perimeter columns per side, to the Twin Towers' 59, producing the same eye-boggling vertical lines on each face. (As Jean Baudrillard noted of the more famous pair, well before its destruction, it is "blind," with no side presenting a facade.) The BOk, too, has a bilevel lobby, whose height is matched by arched windows. But the arches are big and round, like a child's plain wooden building blocks, rather than the Venetian Gothic ogees that, in the World Trade Center, flowed directly into the perimeter columns.
so you've erected the enormous towers on each side of the deep valley, deeper than any valley previously bridged. how do you get a pilot cable from one tower to the next? previous solutions have included: attaching the cable to a kite and flying it over (e.g. niagara falls suspension bridge), carrying one end by helicopter (e.g. akashi kaikyo bridge) and floating one end on a boat (e.g. brooklyn bridge). the brains behind the siduhe bridge decided to ignore all those options and break another record instead. they attached the 3200ft cables to rockets and accurately fired them over the valley, becoming the first people to do so.
Silver Towers is the first post-war urban renewal superblock development in New York City to be landmarked. While such urban renewal projects rarely receive high marks for design, Silver Towers is considered a watershed moment for one of the late 20th century's most respected and influential architects. The design won awards from the American Institute of Architects and the City Club, was dubbed "one of ten buildings that climax an era" by Fortune Magazine, and was cited as a basis for which Pei received the 1983 Pritzker Prize -- the most prestigious award for architects -- for his body of work up to that time. Landmarking Silver Towers not only helps preserve an eminently livable place and honors a great work of architecture, but it also acknowledges the importance of our city's past efforts to create affordable housing and public art.
These may or may not be great buildings, but that whole complex is just this big sucky void between the Village and Soho that no one can get rid of now. Blech.
It's worth sitting through the annoying "in a world..." narration to see the structure of an immense colony of ants. The scientists poured 10 tons of concrete down into an abandoned ant colony, waited for it to harden, and then spent weeks excavating the results.
During the construction of the giant structure, it's estimated that the ants hauled 40 tons of dirt out of the holes, the equivalent of building the Great Wall of China. (via cyn-c)
On the front, the names of famous Dutch architects form an image of the queen while some Dutch architecture books on the back form an outline of The Netherlands. The design was done using free software running on Ubuntu/Debian. (via design observer)
In the early 1960's Godtfred was building a new house and, naturally, he tried to model the structure with Lego bricks. The problem was that the Lego brick, with an aspect ratio of 6:5, was different than standard European construction modules of 1:1. Rather than contend with the problems of using regular Lego bricks he simply had new, special bricks molded for him. Bricks that would allow him to more closely copy his architectural plans.
The Metropolitan Life Tower is located on the east side of Madison Square Park at 1 Madison Avenue. It has quietly become one of my favorite buildings in the city; I find myself peering up at it whenever I'm in the area. (I took a photo of the building while in line at the Shake Shack last spring...it's a lovely color in the late afternoon light.) Inspired by a photo posted recently to Shorpy that shows the tower under construction -- and before the addition of the building's iconic clock -- I did some research and discovered three things.
Two. The NY Times ran a story in December 1907 about the eventual completion of the structure and how it would take over as the world's tallest building, surpassing another then-unfinished building, the Singer Tower. In the era before widely available air travel, the building's vantage point was remarkable.
The view from the top was of a new New York. No other skyscrapers obstructed the vista in either direction. Passing the green roof of the Flatiron Building, the gaze literally spanned the Jersey City Heights and rested on Newark and towns on the Orange Mountains, fifteen miles away.
To the southward the skyscrapers bulked like a range of hills in steel and mortar, the Singer tower rising in the midst, a solitary watch tower on a peak. This hid the harbor, but to the left beyond the bridges, reduced at this height to gray cobwebs, the eye caught the sunlight on the sea -- a long strip of shimmering silver beyond Coney Island and the Rockaways.
So the list will not include affronts that are merely aesthetic. To be included, buildings must either exhibit a total disregard for their surrounding context or destroy a beloved vista. Removing them would make room for the spirit to breathe again and open up new imaginative possibilities.
Penn Station, Madison Square Garden, and the Javits Center are deservedly included.
In the last 25 years, the city's population has increased by a million people, and another million will be here 25 years from now. The question is not whether to make room for them but how. We could, in theory, rope off most of Manhattan to new development and push new arrivals to the city's fringes. Had we done that years ago, we would have created a museum of shabbiness. Even doing so now would keep the city in a state of embalmed picturesqueness and let the cost of scarce space climb to even loonier heights than it already has. In its 43-year existence, the Landmarks Preservation Commission has tucked more than 25,000 buildings under its protective wing, which seems about right. Protect every tenement, and eventually millionaires can no longer afford them.
If you can't take all the text, read it Playboy-style...there are over fifty great before-and-after photos of various new buildings around town, just keep scrolling down.
If you're hesitant about whether to watch the series or not, check out this two-minute appetizer of perhaps the meatiest tidbit in the book: the oak beam replacement plan for the dining hall of New College, Oxford.
Almost immediately, the building society started receiving correspondence to Sherlock Holmes from all over the world, in such volumes that it appointed a permanent "secretary to Sherlock Holmes" to deal with it. A bronze plaque on the front of Abbey House carries a picture of Holmes and Conan Doyle's narrative detailing Holmes and Watson moving in at 221B.
The museum sits on a twenty-acre reclaimed industrial site directly across the Menomonee River from downtown Milwaukee and has been conceived as an urban factory ready-made for spontaneous motorcycle rallies. The three-building campus includes space for permanent and temporary exhibitions, the company's archives, a restaurant and cafe, and a retail shop, as well as a generous amount of event and waterfront recreational space. The museum's indoor and outdoor components were inspired by the spirit of Harley rallies in towns like Sturgis and Laconia, where thousands of riders congregate every year.
Two bits of news about the High Line and its impending park.
1. Curbed has new renderings of what the park is going to look like. Here's phase 1 (Gansevoort St. to 20th) and phase 2 (21st to 30th). They're calling it a park but from the drawings it seems more like a glorified sidewalk.
Finally, one day last fall, more than a year after they moved in, Mr. Klinsky received a letter in the mail containing a poem that began:
We've taken liberties with Yeats to lead you through a tale that tells of most inspired fates iin hopes to lift the veil.
The letter directed the family to a hidden panel in the front hall that contained a beautifully bound and printed book, Ms. Bensko's opus. The book led them on a scavenger hunt through their own apartment.
And it wasn't an easy hunt either.
In any case, the finale involved, in part, removing decorative door knockers from two hallway panels, which fit together to make a crank, which in turn opened hidden panels in a credenza in the dining room, which displayed multiple keys and keyholes, which, when the correct ones were used, yielded drawers containing acrylic letters and a table-size cloth imprinted with the beginnings of a crossword puzzle, the answers to which led to one of the rectangular panels lining the tiny den, which concealed a chamfered magnetic cube, which could be used to open the 24 remaining panels, revealing, in large type, the poem written by Mr. Klinsky.
Viewed architecturally, these examples of high-tech camping gear -- capable of housing small groups of people on the vertical sides of cliffs, as if bolted into the sky -- begin to look like something dreamed up by Archigram: nomadic, modular, and easy to assemble even in wildly non-urban circumstances. This is tactical gear for the spatial expansion of private leisure.
Atop six stories of parking lots, Antilla's living quarters begin at a lobby with nine elevators, as well as several storage rooms and lounges. Down dual stairways with silver-covered railings is a large ballroom with 80% of its ceiling covered in crystal chandeliers. It features a retractable showcase for pieces of art, a mount of LCD monitors and embedded speakers, as well as stages for entertainment. The hall opens to an indoor/outdoor bar, green rooms, powder rooms and allows access to a nearby "entourage room" for security guards and assistants to relax.
Photos here. In fairness, the place sounds like a combination corporate HQ with an incorporated family living space, but still. Not noted in the article is the expensive laboratory-grade scanning electron microscope that Ambani uses to locate his teensy penis, for which the 27-story house is compensation.
With images by Sabine Haubitz and Stefanie Zoche of Haubitz+Zoche, the show looks at "the concrete skeletons of five-star hotel complexes" abandoned on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. They are resorts that never quite happened, then, with names like Sultan's Palace and the Magic Life Imperial. This makes them "monuments to failed investment."
At the same time, I don't think the cooks look at me as a real community member. I'm not that cozy paternal figure. I'm always doing different things, and it creates this atmosphere where the cooks are on the balls of their feet. They're thinking, Where's he going next, what's happening next? There's a little bit of confusion. I think that's good. It's hard to articulate, because you think of the kitchen as very organized; and, like I said, the more control you have, the better. But a little bit of chaos creates tension. And that creates energy and passion, and it tends to make you season something the right way or reach for something that would add this, that, or the other thing.
The other chefs are Alice Waters, Grant Achatz, and Wylie Dufresne. The one thing they all talked about is the importance of open sight lines, both between the dining room and kitchen and among the chefs in the kitchen.
Princeton Architectural Press is offering a most unusual publication called Materials Monthly. Each month or so, a small box arrives on your doorstep containing not just a printed magazine about architecturally interesting materials but samples of the materials themselves, including fabric swatches, tiles, wallpaper, glass, and steel. Dan Hill recently received his issue and has a nice review and unboxing.
Benoit Mandelbrot and Paola Antonelli talk about, among other things, fractals, self-similarity in architecture, algorithms that could specify the creation of entire cities, visual mathematics, and generalists.
This has been for me an extraordinary pleasure because it means a certain misuse of Euclid is dead. Now, of course, I think that Euclid is marvelous, he produced one of the masterpieces of the human mind. But it was not meant to be used as a textbook by millions of students century after century. It was meant for a very small community of mathematicians who were describing their works to one another. It's a very complicated, very interesting book which I admire greatly. But to force beginners into a mathematics in this particular style was a decision taken by teachers and forced upon society. I don't feel that Euclid is the way to start learning mathematics. Learning mathematics should begin by learning the geometry of mountains, of humans. In a certain sense, the geometry of...well, of Mother Nature, and also of buildings, of great architecture.
"You've been asking for data," Ebbesen says to me. "Well, we definitely have energy savings: we've had one study that said 25 percent and another that said 40 percent. We pay a lot of attention to the energy model because we want to be efficient, because that leads to less pollution. But that's not where the savings are. The savings are all related to productivity." Navy Federal's wealth (they don't exactly have trouble getting long-term financing) means that Ebbesen could swallow higher up-front costs if it means a longer life span-and indeed this building is designed for a 40-year cycle (generous for its type). But to be conservative he sticks to 30 years for the following calculation: over that time 92 percent of the organ-ization's costs goes to employees, 6 percent go to maintenance and operation, and a mere 2 percent are represented by the initial construction investment. "When I show that on a slide," Ebbesen says, "it's kind of like, 'Duh, now are you paying attention?'"
With their new environmentally friendly buildings, Navy Federal has reduced their annual employee turnover rate from 60% to 17%.
The design is already causing controversy, with critics questioning the wisdom of tinkering with the famous silhouette and spending money on upgrading a tourist attraction which attracts 6.9 million visitors a year.
David Serero, principal of Serero Architects, said in a telephone interview that his firm's proposal was merely a spontaneous design it had submitted to the Eiffel Tower management group in view of the tower's approaching 120th anniversary and, he said, was neither a response to a design competition nor solicited by the tower's management.
This implies that it should be easy and painless to get from one point to another in the building; it should even promote chance meetings of people. A formal call by Mr. X on Mr. Y is the only way X and Y can develop such a tender thing as an idea -- the social scientists have taught me to use X and Y in that bawdy manner. If the interoffice distances are to be kept reasonable, the building must be compact. It need not be circular; a square is often a good substitute for a circle, and even a rectangle is not bad, if the aspect ratio does not get out of hand.
I was the first person from the group of journalists to arrive, giving me plenty of time to look around the lobby, which is actually a gigantic football-field length atrium, the centerpiece of the entire building.
As it was explained to me later, Steve Jobs originally proposed a building with one bathroom, something that would drive foot traffic to a central area all day long. Obviously, they've got more than one bathroom in the building, but just standing there and watching as everyone arrived to start their day, it was obvious that Jobs had managed the feat.
The mailboxes, the employee cafe, and the common room where all the games are all open into that atrium, and people lingered, talking, exchanging ideas and discussing the various projects they're working on. It seemed like a fertile, creative environment, and I felt like Charlie Bucket holding a golden ticket as I examined the larger-than-life Incredibles statues in the center of the atrium and the concept paintings hung on the walls.