Architectural Reading

Vanity Fair - Modern Marvels #9 by Michelle Linden


Number 9 on Vanity Fair's Modern Marvels list is probably the first architectural marvel I ever visited. The thing is... I can't remember the first time. In fact, I've seen it so many times I have trouble distinguishing any particular memories.
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I'm from the east coast and have a history buff for a father, so I've made quite a few visits to DC, all of which included stops to the Vietnam Memorial.
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One of the most striking aspects of the design is that it doesn't look anything like memorials as we know then. This one requires your engagement. You can't just take a look at a statue and move on... you actually have to walk through and along and experience the wall.
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I with more memorials engaged the public like this one, instead of simply pandering to our cliched ideas of memorials and patriotism.
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And what makes it even cooler... Maya Lin completed this competition entry while still in school, beating out (among others) her teacher who gave her a 'B' on the design!
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Architecture's Modern Marvels - #5 by Michelle Linden

Number five on Vanity Fair's Modern Marvel's list is actually #3 on my list of visited marvels. And even better, it is located in my current hometown, which means I can go back as often as I'd like.
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The Seattle Public Library's downtown branch is a spectacular building by Rem Koolhaas. But, just because I think it is spectacular, doesn't mean I love everything about it.

I'm not the biggest Rem fan. Having studied abroad in the Netherlands and received my degree from Illinois Tech, I've probably come in contact with more OMA buildings than the average american architect. And like most architects of his caliber, Rem has a few things that he does over and over to varying degrees of success.
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My biggest problem with OMA's projects is their longevity. In my humble opinion, Rem tends to select materials that will shock you, without caring about what will happen years down the road. He is trying to illicit a reaction from you, and he is generally successful. But buildings are still meant to be used and occupied, once we've had an initial reaction to his interiors, they seem to lose their inventiveness. And even worse, they lose their usefulness, as wear and tear seems to affect his projects more harshly than others. You could argue (and I've heard this from people on his staff) that when the project runs over budget, value engineering is done at the end, usually affecting the interiors. So really, it isn't Rem's fault that the materials are falling apart. I would personally completely disagree. Imagine if I told my clients that it wasn't my fault that I picked an unsuitable material that needed to be replaced in only a few years. Part of my responsibility as an architect is to think holistically about the building beyond the ribbon cutting ceremony.
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My other beef with OMA is that all of their buildings tend to take form by way of an extruded diagram. Sometimes this is very successful, and other times it is a useless concept (IIT's student center comes to mind). The library is one example of forcing a concept - the extruded circular path which determines most of the plan, sections, and overall form is incredibly difficult to use and frustrating for library patrons. This in not a library one visits to borrow books. You can go and use the computers, hang out in the lounge, walk around... but the actual process of finding and borrowing books is immensely frustrating. As a community center and gathering space, the library is very successful, but as an actual library - not so much.
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But, even with these complaints... I think the library is a fantastic structure. It hasn't quite had a "Bilbao Effect" on the city of Seattle, but it still brings visitors. And it has brought a kind of innovation and modernity not generally found in the staid architectural community of the Pacific NW. That is my favorite thing... it helps the region think beyond the timber construction with exposed steel brackets that is so often regurgitated. There are so many things we can do today structurally, and this structure is really a fantastic example... in fact, the best part about walking around looking for a book is that you get to look at the structure from all different angles as well. It really is a special place. And if we think of a library as a place to gain knowledge, then the Seattle Public Library is definitely doing its job. You're just not going to find that knowledge in a book.
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The Green Blue Book by Michelle Linden


I've been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to review a few books lately... the latest being the Green Blue Book by Thomas M. Kostigen.

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As someone who is interested in all things green... I think this is a great little book! So often, we think about the easy way to save materials (and in this case water), but we don't worry about the embodied energy of those same materials. I mean, bamboo flooring may be certified green, but it is still shipped over from overseas, which isn't exactly sustainable. The same kind of thinking can be applied to water conservation and this book really shows you how.

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The Green Blue Book illustrates exactly how many gallons of water go into your daily foods, materials, resources, and more. Want to know how many gallons it takes to produce your tennis shoes? or your spinach salad? It's all in the book... Which by the way was definitely written by a man. In the clothing section it suggests women can save water by wearing thongs instead of briefs, but doesn't suggest the same for men!

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The book is a quick and easy read, and a great resource for future purchases. If you're interested check it out...


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And, in celebration of World Water Day... today I'm giving out one copy of the book (sent straight from the publisher) to the reader with the best idea for saving water. Put your idea in the comments (with an email address), and if I think your's is the best I will email you for your shipping info.

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Can't wait to hear your good ideas!

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For the Architect or Designer in your Life by Michelle Linden

Give Green Reads by Michelle Linden

As someone who is very interested in sustainability, green technology, and the like... I generally find if difficult to find good books to read. Usually, the books seem overly simplistic (compost is good!) or overly scientific. Its hard to find a well-written and informative book for general, but well-educated reader. Luckily, I've recently had the opportunity to read two such books!

Our choice is the follow up to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Where An Inconvenient Truth was quite the doomsday presentation, Our Choice presents us with clear options for moving forward. Its not just telling us everything that we've done to screw up the Earth, but its explaining how we can fix what we've done... using both large and small scale solutions. The book is an easy read, while still explaining in detail the science behind the global warming crisis. And unlike An Inconvenient Truth, its got fantastic full color photos and diagrams to help illustrate the text. And personally, I really enjoy the immediacy of the book. Gore tells stories about current events - liking the birthers to climate change deniers - which helps root the book in the now. So, if you or anyone you know is looking for an informative book on climate change, with an upbeat personality... check out




The Whole Green Catalog is a much more interesting book than the cover would suggest... Really makes that whole, don't judge a book by its cover thing ring true. The book lists 1000 action items that individuals can undertake to improve our quality of life. The book is broken down into simple sections - homebuilding, energy, clothing, furniture, etc. Within each section are various technologies and suggestions pertaining to sustainability and a high quality of life. Products range in scale from solar powered calculators to equal exchange chocolate to geothermal HVAC. The beauty is that each product recommendation comes with a 2-3 paragraph explanation of the technology and image to help you understand. Again, this is a great book for anyone looking to improve their knowledge of green technology without reading through scientific literature. Its an easy and entertaining read... in fact, it was sitting on my coffee table during Thanksgiving dinner and everyone passed the book around and even took time out of watching football to read it! If that sounds good to you... check out

Whole Green Catalog: 1000 Best Things for You and the Earth

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