Monday, May 30, 2011

Amusing UK Signage Graphics Part I: Moving About

A couple of years ago, whilst in the UK, I encountered a number of don't-go-here, stop-or-you'll-get-hurt, type of signs that I found particularly charming.  The style of these graphics is amusing to me simply because they just somehow seem so, well, polite compared to their US counterparts.  In other cases, they seem to just have a sense of style that indicates someone, somewhere, put that little extra effort into making them look just so.

I just now realized I have too many of them to blow on one blog post, so this will be the first of 3 in a series.  Here we go!

I love how she holds his hand. 

You may encounter flamboyant personages
as they sashay about the vicinity.

Take your flamboyant personage elsewhere
if you intend to sashay about.
(Notice how the pose of the figure is
identical, save for the arm.)


One could almost read this as "No Stopping!"

Do you notice this sort of thing when you travel, or is it just me?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

Los Angeles is a city in a desert.  It's easy to lose sight of that fact.  Given the context, however, it's pretty easy to see that, in such a place, Water and Power are pretty much synonymous.  Years ago I thoroughly enjoyed a book called Rivers in the Desert, which is an historical account of the land-and-water-rights grab perpetrated on the people of the Owens Valley, and subsequent development of the aqueducts by William Mulholland.

I am rather sympathetic to Mulholland, inasmuch as he was a self-trained, uneducated man, who eventually achieved tremendous feats in the area of hydraulic engineering and civic infrastructure.  Of course, the above mentioned land grab was an abhorrent violation of the property rights of the people of the Owens Valley, and I don't mean to diminish that.  But I digress.

Sometime in the '50s and/or '60's the LADWP built a lot of really nice looking modernist facilities all around town.  The iconic DWP Headquarters was built around this time, but there were also a number of substations and the like constructed, that have a coherent visual identity all their own.  Said identity includes smooth concrete walls, thin stacked modern brickwork, and bronze lettering set off of the face of the building on posts.  If you do a google image search under DWP station, or DWP substation, or DWP distributing station, you can see a few examples (although I was disappointed that there weren't more.  I should get out there and take more snaps of these).  Some are more modern, some are more neo-traditional, but almost all of them share the bronze lettering in common.

If you pass by just at the right time of day, you get this:

or this:

or even this:
One of the lovely things about Los Angeles is that, even for all the smog, we do have fabulous light.  *sigh*

Friday, May 27, 2011

Sullivan Sketches

Tonight I fly out and leave L.A. behind.  This weekend I'll be in Atlanta for ATLOSCON, where I'll give a talk about the origins of modern architecture.  One of the central figures of my talk, and indeed of modern architecture itself, is Louis Sullivan.  Frank Lloyd Wright is also in my talk as is Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc.  I greatly admire all three, but I have a special place in my heart for Sullivan these days.

Why is that?  It seems that Sullivan finally formulated the fundamental theories that Viollet-le-Duc was just beginning to shed light on.  Wright wouldn't have been possible without Sullivan.  Wright applied and perhaps expanded upon Sullivan's ideas, but he didn't particularly revolutionize architectural thinking like Sullivan did.

I'm not sure anyone has since.

So today I bring you a few sketches in Sullivan's own hand.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

This Week's Objectivist Round-up

This week's edition of the Objectivist Round-up has been posted over at Try Reason!

Check it out!  John Drake's blog is one of my favorites.  That man has a way with words.

John Herman Dersch

My Grandpa Dersch would have been 101 yesterday.  He died in 2005, just shy of his 95th birthday.

Here he is with his first pickup truck.

It is a 1937 GMC 1/2 ton, with 6 cylinders under the hood.  If this was taken around the time he bought it new, that would make him 27 or 28 in this picture.

He was a farmer in Southern Indiana.  The house behind him was their farmhouse where he and Grandma lived, and where Mom and her brother were born and raised.  He was very innovative in the way chickens were raised for market, and along with his brothers, developed a very good chicken business.  Later, he and Grandma built a big chicken house and went into the egg business.  They also had cattle, pigs, and grew corn on their farm.  He and his brothers were well known and highly regarded in that part of Southern Indiana for their innovations.

He could fix anything that broke and do anything that needed to be done on their farm; that had a big influence on me as a kid growing up.  I think of him often.  He was an amazing man.

Happy Birthday, Grandpa Dersch!  I miss you, but I know you would be proud of me today if you were here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels: Quick Post

A couple months ago I took my students on a field trip, to the L.A. Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.  At some point, I would like to write a longer post on that building, as it is one of my local faves, and I have a lot to say about it. Today, however, we're just going to have a quick look at the way the sunlight and shadows move and play across the facade over the course of the day.

These were taken in early April, so the times given in my descriptions are PST.

Here is the Cathedral as it looked when I arrived, at 9:25 a.m.  It's not first thing as the sun rises, but the sun is still relatively low in the eastern sky, and the building is getting a more or less straight-on blast of sunlight.   You can see that the adobe-colored concrete is treated in 2 different ways: it has smooth, flat surfaces and horizontally banded surfaces.

Here is the horizontal banding up close, with a flat section also, so you can get a better idea about what it's like:

The portion of the building I am interested in for this discussion is this area above the main entrance.  The right section is flat concrete, and has a recessed window very high up.  The center section is horizontally banded and has a less-deeply recessed, larger window; the left section is also horizontally banded.  Note also that none of these surfaces are related to one another by right angles.  This affects the way the sunlight and shadows react with the building, as we shall see.  The photo below was taken at 9:31, and the shadows are pretty much the same as the one above

Here it is about 30 minutes later, at 9:58.  Notice how the flat surface is still in the shade, but it is no longer casting any shadow on the adjacent surface; the shadow line between the two surfaces has receded right into the corner.  Notice also how the next surface over, with the larger window, is just barely being grazed by sunlight, so that the lower edges of the horizontal bands are subtly dabbed in light.

Now (below) it is a bit later, 12:21 p.m.  Look at the fantastic play of light on the surface to the left!  The sun is high in the sky, causing long shadows on the horizontal panels, and the glass of the window is reflecting sunlight back onto the wall as well.  The flat surface to the right, by contrast, is getting a direct blast.

Here is a closeup, just a moment later, at 12:30.  Another nuance you can see, if you click to embiggen, is the way the small concrete wall segment above the large window is also reflecting a small but noticeable amount of light onto the adjacent darker surface, at the corner.

And finally, about an hour and a half later, here is how it looks at 2:07 p.m.  The surface to the left is in complete shadow, and the window reflection isn't doing its thing any more.  The surface in the middle is just getting enough sunlight to make little triangular tips on the edge.  One of the things I like about this building is that there are no right angles at all in the floor plan, and how that leads to this kind of richness and variety in the way the surfaces interact with the sunlight throughout the day.

It also leads to some really interesting things on the inside, but I'll have to leave that discussion for another day.  Have you been to the Cathedral?  Did you like it?  Hate it?  Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Sullivan Detail for Today

I took this picture last December at the Art Institute while I was in Chicago visiting my sister and her family.  Somehow, I didn't write down exactly what it was (or photograph the description tag, which is usually what I do in such a situation).

It's definitely Sullivan, and I'm pretty sure it's part of the elevator grillwork from the Chicago Stock Exchange.  Although, now that I'm thinking about it and writing this up, I think it could also be an air grille from that or another building.

It's fun to bring images like this into CAD or some vector-based drawing program and analyze them in terms of their fundamental geometry of lines, circles, and arcs.  Hey, that gives me an idea for another whole post!

But now I have to go teach, so that's for another day.  Cheers!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Feeling Like My Old Self Again

Last night I was up until 2:30.

Yesterday I spent most of the day working on a difficult writing project.  I'm having my website, as well as the blog here, completely redesigned from scratch.  When I started the project with John David, I didn't realize quite what I was in for.  Turns out, he's not just a web designer; he's a marketing guy too, and he's chock full of good ideas.  So he sent over this Creative Brief that was a few pages long, with lots of questions written out in italics having to do with my objectives, my audience, and their demographics, and some particularly difficult questions about brand character and the competition (!)

During our initial conversation about the Brief, I had to have him explain the concept of brand equity to me.  After a little simple math, I calculated my brand equity at about $1.95.  So, it turns out there's lots of room for improvement around here in the Online Personal Brand Development department -- and now I have a Pro on the case!  As we wrapped up the conversation, I thought he would be ready to get off and running, but he managed to turn the tables on me at the last minute.  "Why don't you take this document and write out your responses and send it back to me," he said.  It seemed like a completely reasonable request at the time, but in reality it was a challenging assignment, to say the least.

I've been working on it over the past few weeks, sort of off and on, when I haven't been sick with the pneumonia or drowning in student work to grade.  Yesterday was my self-imposed deadline for getting it done and back to JD.  This coming weekend is ATLOSCON, and I absolutely had to get the Creative Brief out of my hair before then, otherwise it would have been 2 more weeks of delay.

My writing-a-difficult-essay process works like this:  I write a bit, maybe for half an hour or so, then get hungry or thirsty.  So I allow myself to go to the kitchen and get some noms.  Then I come back and write some more.  Then I decide to put on some music, but usually have a hard time finding the right thing in my iTunes.  Sometimes I can write to music but  it usually has to be something I'm not that familiar with, or it will distract me too much.  The late Beethoven piano sonatas can be good to write by, as they are more contemplative, I think -- except for the Hammerklavier.  Then I write some more.  I have given up being bothered by my wandering mind's interruptions.  I think my subconscious just needs some breathing room sometimes, and it lets me know, when the flow of ideas gets interrupted.

After a bit more writing, I will have a sudden realization about a particular passage in a Beethoven piano sonata, and have to go look up the Wikipedia article to get an answer.  Yesterday's Beethoven distraction had to do with the structure of the second movement of his Piano Sonata #5 in C minor, Opus 10 No. 1. (Wikipedia describes the movement as having sonatina form - meaning a simplified sonata form with no development section.) I've been studying that sonata lately; it's an interesting one because it is an early work, and it foreshadows many of his future compositions in C minor, like the Grand Sonata Pathetique, the 5th Symphony, and his lesser-known 32 Variations in C minor (among others).  Now that I'm sitting here thinking about it, I've had to put on the Coriolan Overture (also in C minor) to see if I can find any similarities there.  (Coriolan always makes me feel like I'm in a spy movie.  It has a dramatic element that sounds like Jason Bourne doing parkour over the rooftops of Berlin, alternating with a tender, somewhat more romantic (but still dramatic) second theme.)

See?  I'm doing it right now.  I'm trying to write this blog post, and Beethoven has me completely under his spell.  Anyway, I finally got through my writing project yesterday, reread and edited it, and sent it off.  Then I shifted gears around dinner time and took the dogs for a long-ish walk over in Echo Park.  We don't tend to go over there for walks, but I like that area, and my thoughts of moving out of this house have returned (along with recent reports from neighbors that the dog that attacked Paul and I last year has been seen loose in the neighborhood again).  So, you could say we were doing a bit of reconnaissance towards the idea of possibly moving, perhaps next year sometime.

All afternoon, I'd been hitting the coffee pretty hard. After our walk, I was pretty excited about all the good work I'd gotten done, and my brain was still snapping along pretty well, so I resumed working on my ATLOSCON talk.  This involved going back through old photos, deciding what images to re-scan, and realizing that I had my own new photographs of Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Building, as well as his Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room, which was installed at the Chicago Art Institute after the Stock Exchange was tragically torn down in the '60s or '70s.

I just worked right on through until about 1:45, and finally decided I really should go to bed if I wanted to be at all productive today.  By the time I finally got into bed and watched a couple of videos online to help my brain turn off, it was 2:30.  Somehow I woke up at 7 feeling good.  I was expecting to be completely dragged out and hungover feeling, but I'm surprisingly refreshed today.  I even tried going back to bed after feeding the dogs, but it just wasn't working for me.

Since I felt pretty good, I decided to started my day with a relatively light dumbbell workout, which I have done a few times over the past few weeks, now that my thumb has returned to mostly-normal after my surgery back in early February.  Working out first thing in the morning always gives me a tremendous sense of efficacy, and it really is the best way I can think of to start the day.  Perhaps today will mark the start of the return of that excellent habit.

Then I was checking out my Google Reader feed, and saw this excellent post from Trey, on the objectivist virtue of integrity.  It's really a solid, thoughtful bit of writing.  He observes,
The simplest possible definition or explanation of the virtue of integrity that I can offer is this: consistency.  Integrity is about always always always pursuing your values in the same way according to the same principles.
Reading it really helped me resolve a lot of the things I've been wrestling with over the past few months.  Basically, since the middle of January, I've felt completely down and out, first from the hand surgery and recovery, which was closely followed by the bout of pneumonia.  This has definitely been one of the most depressing periods of my life; I think it has rivaled 2004, which I refer to as my Dark Year.  At least this latest experience was relatively short-lived by comparison.

Towards the end, Trey sums up with, "Integrity is about serving your larger goals.  This is why when I stop to think about my career, I am always absolutely ruthless. "  This just completely hit home for me.  

I've had a clear sense over the past couple of weeks, as I've returned to work and seen some new opportunities opening up for me, that the clouds were parting and the sun was coming back out again.  But there were nagging doubts lingering in my mind, just like the cough lingers as your lungs work to get all the junk out after the pneumonia has cleared up.

But today is different.  I'm through indulging in any more self-doubt.  It really is an indulgence that I simply cannot afford any more of, and am no longer willing to engage in.

Today the sun is back out, and it's shining down on me.  And it's the same sun and same blue sky that shone down on Louis Henri Sullivan in Chicago the 1890s when he was at the height of his powers, and it's the same sun and blue sky that shone down on Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna in the 1790s when he was writing that early C minor sonata that planted seeds for those future masterpieces.  

And now, I'm going to go out and be absolutely ruthless.

5/24/11 Update:  Link added for John David

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ATLOSCON Architecture Talk

I'm getting very excited about my upcoming talk on architecture, to be given at the Atlanta Objectivist Society's conference, ATLOSCON.  It's nearly a week away!

This is a re-polished version of the talk I gave last fall at FROST in Denver.  The talk was very well received there, and I'm pretty optimistic that the folks down in Atlanta will enjoy it just as much.

The talk starts with a reading of the scene from The Fountainhead where Roark and the Dean are arguing about the proper principles with which to approach architectural design.  From there I discuss three of the early heroes of the modern architectural movement, and how they did actually have the right ideas from the get-go, which led to many great and fabulous buildings.

Many (most?) people have heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, and a lot of people are even aware of his mentor, Louis Sullivan.  Sullivan brought us the seminal concept 'Form Follows Function.'  Few people, however, know about Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, the early 18th Century French architect and theorist, whose ideas heavily influenced Sullivan.

Viollet-le-Duc wrote things like:
If we take separately all the members of a Greek temple and study them individually, as well as in their direct relation to the whole, we shall invariably perceive the influence of those intelligent and delicate observations which attest the presence of art, -- that exquisite sentiment which subordinates every form to reason, not indeed t the dry and pedantic reason of the geometrician, but to reason as directed by the senses and by observation of the laws of nature.
[The Greeks] neither invented any type of Architecture nor any system of construction; but they applied the principles of logic to Architectural Art, and this they never derived from the Eastern races nor even from the Egyptians.  In this the Greeks are the Fathers of the Western world; -- it was they who opened the way of progress.  Though lovers of form, they never sacrificed principle to it until their genius was stifled under Roman domination; but then they were no longer Greeks. 
I love how much emphasis he places on reason, and acting on principle.  There's even more great stuff to be discovered in his writings, which we'll look at in the talk.  We'll also review key passages from Sullivan and Wright's own writings, as well as look at some of the buildings the three of them designed during their careers.

There's still time to register, so get on board and come hear my talk at ATLOSCON!