Every year since 2006, the magazine Building Design has honored one special UK building with the architectural equivalent of a Razzy Award: the Carbuncle Cup. The title of the prize originates from an infamous quote made by noted architectural curmudgeon Charles, Prince of Wales, calling the proposed 1984 addition to the National Gallery a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend.” Drake Circus Shopping Centre, first winner in 2006, image by Tom Jolliffe (CC BY-SA 2.0) The award has been given to both UK and international architects, and was, until recently, partially democratic — readers could vote for the worst building on the magazine’s website. Since 2009, the winners have been selected by a small council of critics. Aerial View of MediaCity UK, the 2011 Carbuncle Cup winner, showing a collection of buildings, all with patterned exterior skins, image by the University of Salford (CC-BY-2.0) The Carbuncle Cup begs several questions: What does it mean for a building to be ugly, especially when designed by high-level architecture firms? How do people come to a consensus on what makes for an ugly building despite widely varying personal tastes? What can we learn from the winners of the […]
Design is everywhere in our lives, perhaps most importantly in the places where we’ve just stopped noticing. 99% Invisible (99 Percent Invisible) is a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture. From award winning producer Roman Mars, KALW in San Francisco, and Radiotopia from PRX.
In 1999, a nature documentary called Wolves came out in IMAX theaters. The film was designed to combat the misinformation campaigns of the ranching and hunting lobbies, which portrayed wolves as vicious killers. The filmmakers wanted to show a wolf pack interacting in complex, subtle ways. Gray wolf by Isster17 (CC BY-SA 4.0) But filming the intimate lives of wild wolves is nearly impossible because they don’t tolerate the presence of people. So the show’s producers went to game farm, “rented” wolves who were more used to being around humans, and constructed an artificial den with cameras inside. And in the movie there are these amazing close-up shots of puppies cozying up against their mother’s belly. At a screening for the film someone in the audience asked producer Chris Palmer how the team had captured these extraordinary shots inside the den. Palmer’s heart sank, but he decided to come clean, and when he did he could feel the excitement leave the room. Up to this moment, he had assumed people wouldn’t care. “But they do care,” he realized. “They are assuming they are seeing the truth … things that are authentic and genuine.” Of course, there’s some level of illusion […]
As cities evolve, architecture often fills in abandoned routes designed for cars and trains. Still, the remnants of old voids can persist in the shapes of new structures. Slicing against the grain of the city, these buildings are especially noticeable when they defy a rigid grid. The cuts they follow are rendered solid, resulting in a kind of architectural scar tissue as if the built environment were healing around old wounds. Reused ghost streets and streetcar routes of Los Angeles via BldgBlog Like pieces of a giant puzzle, the resulting patterns can be hard to spot from a street-level perspective. Zooming out on digital maps, one can sometimes trace the effects along entire neighborhoods. Zooming back in, the oddities of a single block become apparent. Individual buildings may feature an unusual angle here or there but bigger cross-block trajectories are evident as well. In some places, the walls of otherwise rectilinear structures end up oriented along these historic lines or curves. In other cases, entire buildings end up aligned with past passageways, from their foundations to their rooftops, like the houses above that go against the grain of their neighborhood. “The notion that every city has these deeper wounds and […]
Los Angeles is rich with architectural diversity. On the same block, you could find a retro-futuristic Googie diner next to a Spanish-style mansion, sitting comfortably alongside a Dutch Colonial dwelling, all in close proximity to a Deconstructivist concert hall. In the golden era of Hollywood of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, the new movie industry titans who flocked to L.A. had an opportunity to construct whatever style houses they wanted. After all, Los Angeles had a lot of open space to develop, and no unifying architectural style. And there was one particular architect who could make any kind of building and make it well: Paul Revere Williams. Various California homes by Paul Williams, images by David Horan for the Paul Williams Project Williams worked on all kinds of projects, including commercial and institutional ones, but he was particularly well known for his residential architecture. He designed a number of homes for Hollywood stars, including Frank Sinatra’s bachelor pad and a mansion for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. He also made additions for the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Palm Springs Tennis Club. He was on the team behind the Theme Building at LAX, one of the most iconic structures in […]
In the biographical feature film Flash of Genius, we follow the story of engineering professor Robert Kearns (spoilers ahead). Blind in one eye, the motion of his car’s windshield wipers irritates his vision. As the story goes, he has an epiphany: wipers should operate like the human eye, moving intermittently in the same way we blink periodically. He filed a patent for his invention in 1964 and was then sued after automakers refused to license it but developed their own versions. The whole movie revolves around one man’s subtle but critical change to an everyday design: the humble windshield (or: windscreen) wiper. American inventor Mary Anderson is generally credited with creating the first wiper system in 1903 and they have been evolving ever since. “Like so many things we take for granted,” writes Paul Lukas, “wiper design turns out to be a surprisingly nuanced rabbit hole once you take a moment to notice it, with no two cars seeming to have the same configuration.” There are, however, some particularly popular layouts. The most common configuration is a tandem system in which paired wipers move together across the windshield, connected to a single mechanism centered below (animated image by Kemmi [CC […]