Plan Now

walkerI just returned from a visit with my 84-year-old mother who was in the hospital because she fell and hit her head. Though she suffered only a nasty black eye and a shock to her system, it was clear to all of us that the danger of her falling had become critical. With my sister, I undertook the task of relocating her to an assisted living apartment. For over a year, Mom had been adamantly against this move, but after her fall, she agreed to it.

No one likes to admit that they are getting older, and that they can’t do things the same way they used to. Many of my parents’ generation continue, with increasing effort, to keep up their lifestyle and routines that have served them well for many years, until there is a crisis. This can come in the form of a fall, a fender-bender, or a diagnosis of self or partner, and suddenly, things need to change. Most often, new arrangements, and all of their attendant upheaval, occur at a moment of maximum stress, when one’s abilities to adjust and cope are already under strain.

With 20-20 hindsight, we can see that the time to have made some accommodations would have been BEFORE the crisis. My sister and I wish we had been able to convince Mom to accept her need for increased assistance many months ago. It would have been so much easier for her to adjust to new patterns and routines when in good health, and the improved arrangements might even have prevented the crisis.

Foresight about the realities of aging-in-place, that is, making accommodations to one’s home for accessibility and safety, requires facing the possibility of loss of abilities that have been taken for granted. It requires clear-eyed practicality and application of “the golden rule” to one’s self.

Appropriate architectural accommodations in homes for aging-in-place, also known as universal design, includes integration of the following:

  • Smooth, ground-level entrances without stairs
  • Surfaces that are stable, firm, and slip resistant
  • Wide interior doors, hallways, and alcoves with 60″ × 60″ turning space at doors and dead-ends
  • Removal of throw rugs and clutter
  • Bright and appropriate lighting, particularly task lighting
  • Accessible switches throughout home, including at both ends of the stairs
  • Additional railings
  • Grab bars in bathrooms
  • A hand-held, flexible shower head
  • Functional clearances for approach and use of elements and components
  • Lever handles for opening doors rather than twisting knobs
  • Components that do not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist
  • Clear lines of sight to reduce dependence on sound

For a new home, these accommodations can be smoothly integrated at the outset of the design. For retrofit of an existing home, it can involve some ingenuity to achieve these goals. Increasingly, many of my clients, often “baby boomers” in middle age, are asking for the benefits of universal design. They tell me they want to stay in their homes “for the duration.” They want their homes to be accessible for friends and parents who may use wheelchairs or walkers. They understand that big changes can occur at any time of life.

There is no time like the present to plan for the future.

Related article: Universal Design: What Is It and Why You Should Care. Image courtesy of James Estrin,The New York Times.

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Spirals

spring rollSpring is beginning to happen. This tulip, unfurling from the ground in front of my house, got me thinking about spirals.

Many living things, both plants and animals, share this form in their growth patterns. Haeckel_Ammonitida

This plate from Art Forms of Nature  by German biologist Ernst Haeckel shows examples of ancient Ammonitida shells. I marvel at their complexity and perfection.

No less amazing is M74, the Perfect Spiral Galaxy, a spectacular example of a “grand design spiral galaxy.”

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Fibonacci numbers describe these spiral phenomena mathematically.

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There are many works of architecture based on the spiral, from whole buildings to details, to spiral staircases.

There is a special spiral staircase in Baker Hall, at my alma mater, Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), built with nothing but layered thin Terra-cotta tiles, as a variation of timbrel vault type of construction.

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It supports itself without a steel armature, posts or beams.  The sinuous gentle curve is gorgeous. The a herringbone tile pattern along the curved underside is one of three layers of tile adhered together with fast-setting mortar.  The resulting laminated shell is almost as strong as reinforced concrete.

It was built by the company of a Spanish master builder, Rafael Guastavino, who excelled at designing and building timbrel arches, vaults, and spiral stairs. Guastavino structures, unlike Roman arches and vaults, don’t require heavy wooden supports (centering) during their construction. “The Guastavino craftsmen could start at the four walls of a room and build toward the center. The masons could stand on a ladder or a platform, but they didn’t have to build a wooden frame to support their structure while it was being built—it almost seems miraculous…We have a difficult time today calculating the geometries of (this) structure. I have students here at MIT doing doctoral research, trying to understand how these structures stand up. We can’t build this staircase today.””

The above quote is from MIT structures Professor John Ochsendorf in “Vaulting Ambition,” by Craig Lambert, in Humanities Magazine, a great article that explores the Guastavino’s history, work and influence.

There is an upcoming exhibit in the National Building Museum, called Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Spaces, which will be on view from March 16, 2013 to January 20, 2014. I hope to get a chance to see it.

The first photo is mine; the second photo is courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; the third photo is courtesy of NASA; the fourth photo is courtesy of Wikipedia; and the fifth photo is courtesy of Michael Freeman.

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The Camera as an Artist’s Tool

I am taking a drawing class in which we sometimes work from photos, which by their nature, capture 2-dimensional records of 3-dimensional things, fixing a composition, and in so doing, eliminate several fundamental challenges of drawing.  I have long believed that it is preferable to draw directly from life, and to wrestle with the illusive third dimension, than to draw from photos.

But I am learning that there are opportunities in letting a camera do some of the work.  Compositions can be tested, cropped and re-cropped with ease, enabling quick explorations and unexpected discoveries.  A universe of subject matter can be accessed from the comfort of the studio.

Here is a painting by Charles Sheeler that I love for its stillness, sense of space, composition, color and subject matter.

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 American Interior, 1934

From the website of the Yale Art Gallery where this painting resides, “American Interior is the last and most complex of Sheeler’s paintings of interiors. A master photographer, Sheeler used his own photographs as the basis for many of his paintings. He modeled this composition on one of a group of photographs he had made in 1929 documenting the living room of his former home in South Salem, New York. He photographed the space from above to create a steeply rising floor. In the painting, the cropped composition, oblique view, tilted perspective, and distilled contrasts of light and dark that flatten the forms and emphasize their geometry reveal the artist’s eye as a photographer. His modernist vision responded to the purity of forms and patterns found in American crafts, shown here in the Shaker box, textiles, and chair. In American Interior, Sheeler celebrates both the clarity and precision of the camera and his love for simple, handmade American objects.”

The camera can be an artist’s best friend.

In researching this blog post, I found that Yale Art Gallery’s website, in addition to access to its collection, includes an intriguing online magazine called “What is Art and Why Does it Matter?  I am reminded that computer is a great tool for virtually visiting museums and galleries around the world.

Reverse Glass Painting

 grandpas sampler 1

This Art Deco painting was made in the 1920’s as a gift for my grandfather by his older brother Jacob, a sign painter in New York.  Within the 6”x 8” frame are featured 6 painted marble examples, 8 painted wood varieties, gold and silver leaf, and a miniature picture of their long-gone home of origin, in what is now western Ukraine.  The initials are those of my grandfather, Abraham Warshaw.

The technique of reverse glass painting is an Old World skill.  Unlike the sequence of ordinary painting, fine details go on first, followed by the background. Colors and details remain vivid, protected by the glass.

Sign painters of that time were, on occasion, called upon to produce faux finishes and other trompe l’oeil effects.

The skill and care that went into the creation of this object make it a family treasure.

This photo is courtesy of me.

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10 Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

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1.   Almost everyone can make do with less.  Of everything.
2.   After days at 48-55 degrees indoors, 66 degrees feels almost balmy.  We can all stand to lower the thermostat a bit.
3.   Everyone should eat by candlelight more often.
4.  A headlamp was the most valuable tool during the days without power.
5.   Disaster recovery is a full-body workout.
6.   The human race is split, more or less, 50/50 between self-absorbed jerks and good decent people.
7.   If you want the facts about looming weather, turn off your television and get your information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (noaa.gov).
8.   Don’t wait for a disaster to appreciate and thank people whose vocation or avocation is to serve the greater good (firefighters, police, soldiers, committed volunteers).
9.   Mother Nature will always win in the end—we can’t out-engineer, out-build, outsmart, or outrun her.  Let’s work with her, not against her.
10.  Please, let’s all try to be less wasteful, more grateful, and more respectful of our planet. Treat it like it’s your own home.  Because it is.

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NASA photo of Sandy

Thanks to my friend Allison Thomas who, after her community and home were hit by the hurricane, spent nearly five days without electricity, and spent the following weeks helping others recover what they could of their damaged homes.  She wrote this list.

First photo courtesy of Franklin J. Schaffner, filmmaker of Planet of the Apes.

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Illusions, No. 2

The impulse to challenge users and viewers has long been at the heart of trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) projects. When the eye sees something, the body believes it.

Two-dimensional patterns (made with tiles, carpet, paint, or…..) can create the optical illusion of three dimensionality.

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In the pattern above, do you see stacked cubes with white tops? Or white bottoms?  Does the image change back and forth for you?

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Here, the colors are rearranged. Is the white surface the top, right, left, or bottom of the cube?

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Does this pattern look flat or 3-D? Do you see square holes or pyramids?

Pattern 2

Is this arrangement actually possible in three dimensions?

L Accademia

This sketch of the floor pattern at the Accademia Museum in Venice shows square “recesses” in the medallion on the right, anchored in a flat peach-colored field.  The 3-D illusion is contained, and I don’t fear falling through this floor.

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Would this give you vertigo?

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Would this stair landing make you pause before walking on it?

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Can you feel the surface ripple?

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Does this (actually flat) carpeting make you want to stagger? Or worse?

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A computer-generated tile design clads these perfectly flat and plumb surfaces. Architect Thom Faulders‘ client said, “I wanted someone to barf when they look at it.” This illusion, versus the reality of its flatness, comes close!

The first five drawings were made by me. The first and second photos’ attributions are TBD; the third photo is courtesy of George Winteringham, via Patternity; the fifth photo is courtesy of Vurdlak; the sixth photo is courtesy of Thom Faulders.

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Architecture Whisperer, No. 4

Behold, the building speaks!  This one says, “The Law of the State is ironclad. Judgment is exacting. Crime does not pay.”

Law Court Offices 1

The Law Court Offices in Venice, Italy consist of a tall, dark and narrow, nearly windowless monolith that connects, at the ground level, to buildings of a re-purposed 19th century factory complex. The varied components of the court system all exist or can be accessed from somewhere within this “black box.”

Law COurt Offices 6The dark form is clad in oxidized copper panels punctuated by narrow windows. The entry is recessed under a 15 foot overhang. The Law Court Offices’ light-absorbing, geometrically simplified presence would be remarkable in any setting.  It stands apart, attracts attention for being different, and strikes a degree of trepidation into the viewer.

In the context of Venice, the City of Water and Light, it is the antithesis of most Venetian buildings, especially those along the Grand Canal, that fairly glitter with surface pattern and ornament.

Ca'd'OroTypically, they meet the ground or water with colonnades, behind which are layered the cool recesses of shadowed loggias. Above is the Ca’ D’Oro.

The historical center of state justice in Venice was the Doge’s Palace, on St. Marks Square. It has fabric-inspired brickwork, pedestrian-friendly Venetian Gothic colonnades, and lacy terra-cotta ornament. This lovely exterior’s grandeur does not, however, correlate with the harsh judgments and punishments that were imposed from within.

Doge's PalaceContrast the Doge’s Palace wall with the Law Court Offices’ wall:

Law Court WallThe architect C+S contends that this simple, archetypical, compact shape and the choice of materials constitute a metaphor representing “institution,” in all of its connotations of tradition, organization, and ritual. In addition to this, I think it symbolizes power, severity, and a general unsympathetic authority.  The State will not be moved. No one can escape justice. This is the message about the Law revealed by Venice in its choice of this design.

As an interesting contrast, the new Law Courts of Bordeaux, France, deliver an entirely different message about the Law.

richard-rogers-law-courts-bordeauxIn the words of its architect Richard Rogers, “This form with its enclosing roof creates a legible container of parts.” The cone-shaped masses are courtrooms. Circulation paths and connections can be seen.

Rogers says that the building intentionally “emphasizes, through a feeling of transparency and openness, a positive perception of the accessibility of the French justice system.“

Whether or not French and Italian legal systems are exceptionally different from one another, these two municipalities have built architecture that speaks of two very different things.

Photo No. 1 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 2 courtesy of  Alessandra Bello; Photo No. 3 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 4 courtesy of Wikipedia; Photo No. 5 courtesy of John Hopewell’s blog Italy 2010; Photo No. 6 courtesy of Pietro Savorelli; Photo No. 7 courtesy of Peter Augustin.

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Geomimicry

“…history tells us the art and architecture of ancient Egypt are creations from the mind of man; the desert tells us they are translations from the language of the landscape.”

 egypt 1

 Sahara Desert Rock Formation

egypt 2The Sphinx at Giza

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Theban Hills, West Bank, Luxor Hills

egypt 4Temple of Ramses II, Abu Simbel

Photos and quote from Architecture Magazine, circa 1998.

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What More Do You Need?

Hot TubThese cold, dark, damp Seattle winter days have me thinking about ways to keep warm. I love this elemental hot tub. The wood-fueled heat exchanger is a simple and obvious example of form following function. The tub is a half-sphere, with squat legs and a useful side shelf. Cold water, supplied with a garden hose, is mixed with steam-heated water to regulate the desired temperature. The couple looks like they are steeping in a colossal cup of tea!

Once in a while, a designed object hits all the right notes.

It is only as complicated as it needs to be in order to work. It performs its job with elegant efficiency. Its material is well suited to the application and the material’s properties are appropriately exploited. The object’s use is obvious to the user.

Its form and function resonate with one another, clear as a bell.

The photo was featured on a Metropolis Magazine cover, sometime before 2003. The Dutchtub Original was designed by Floris Schoonderbeek. The quote above is from Sweet Spot, posted in this blog in September 2012.

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