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Posts tagged ‘Architecture’

The Problem of Contemporary Architecture Redux

Charleston will be in a tizzy today, or at least certain elements of it, as an unabashedly-contemporary building gained approval last night at the City's Board of Architectural Review. To embrace the controversy, I thought I'd re-run MTM's piece about his views on Charleston and contemporary architecture:

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We’d Rather Have the Iceberg Than the Ship

If MTM has a male soul mate, it is Miguel Roldan. MTM met Miguel when he lived in Barcelona. They taught architecture together. They debated design together. They brainstormed. They laughed.

MTM even learned to appreciate coffee (in espresso form) from Miguel.

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Help! I Am Married to an Architect!

Wall at the Trapholt Museum. Kolding, Denmark.

That’s the name of my most popular pin board on Pinterest. Help! I am married to an architect! Scrolling through the collection of followers reveals a posse of certified, breathing architects following my pseudo-architect board. News flash for those poor souls: What I knew about architecture before I met MTM could fit between the covers of a rag like People magazine. My preferred form of design was swirly Victorian. Gingerbread details. Luscious tassels. Explosions of flowers erupting anywhere the eye could light. (MTM doesn’t even call Victorian a form of design. It’s too hideous to deserve it.)

Here and there, I write about architecture on this blog, always with a squirmy feeling akin to the onset of a stomach bug. It isn’t that I don’t like studying finishes, roof lines, glass angles, and – most important – screw details. When a German architect asked me what brand of architecture I practiced, I knew I’d picked up enough of the dizzying lingo to fake my way through a basic conversation.


The onset of squeamishness usually accompanies confusion. Ogling the built environment leaves me equal parts thunderstruck by the smorgasbord of creative possibility and rattled by the bargain basement I comprehend. I know what I like, but I don’t know WHY I like it.

Being married to an architect can endanger a girl, too. I spend time wandering around cities, craning my head to ingest the spaces suspended above me. Walking out in traffic or stepping off a curb and twisting my ankle are routine perils for a soul like me. Once, I clogged pedestrian flow on the Brooklyn Bridge, because I decided to lie prone on the walkway to take a picture of an art installation through a crack in the wooden pavers, setting off a chain reaction of face-down humanity. (Which was funny. Why didn’t I think to take a photo of THAT??)

To understand this thing my man loves, I would stop time.

All I have are words. To describe what can be seen. To relay what happens inside me. To explain the angles and contours of a very basic human need. And, because my pre-editor notes that I tell rather than show too much in my writing, spending a week recounting architectural experiences, juxtaposing them onto an unequally yoked marriage, might give me a chance to work through a tick.

I hope you’ll draw along with me, Dear Reader, that through my fingers you may see.

Zen and the Art of Missing your Train

This doesn’t happen very often…Andra is out before me. Usually, she struggles to get to sleep, reading or writing late into the night. If there is one thing I am good at, it is falling asleep. If I am prone to do it, I can be in Dreamland before you can finish reading th

It seems to be a recurring theme, the leaving. Always running through waystations. All these grand halls sound the same, the staccato of heels echoing off impenetrable surfaces, the cacophonous murmer of unintelligible conversations. Is it that everyone is speaking in foreign tongues? The layering of voices overlap and interweave, the faceless sources unrecognizable yet familiar, like deja vu mind games. 

Moving through these scenes feels like a riding a mobius strip, a perpetual conveyor belt that threads through a labyrinth of concourses and atria. Up escalator becomes moving sidewalk becomes elevator then down escalator. Its like the space is folding upon itself, enveloping me in an origami of reflective terrazzo and glass.

Being caught in this prism multiplies everything I see and hear, making it all very disorienting. Is that my reflection? I look like I am a child again. Trick of the eye, I guess.

The only voices that I seem to understand are always announcing gates, arrivals, departures. And they are paging me. Have I missed my connection? What time is it? Where am I supposed to be? I’ve gotta hurry! It’d be much easier if I wasn’t going the opposite direction of everyone else.  M u s t   m o v e   f a s t e r .

MTM to Platform 4, MTM to Platform 4. Departure in two minutes”

Panic usually tastes of metal, like the fillings in my teeth, but in this place there is no such sensation. Only the echoing, the prisms, the kinetic frenzy. I keep catching my reflection out of the corner of my eye, but when I  turn to look I’m not there. I go around a corner and everyone is gone. It’s quiet. Another corner and suddenly I am back in the stream, but now everyone is going my way. The passage is narrowing and time is short as I try to fight my way to the front. Ahead is Platform 4; I can see it. The announcements continue but I’m not listening, focused on the glass door at the end of the passage.

“Last Call for Platform 4″

Just one more person to get ahead of, a little boy. I squeeze by just as I reach the door. I catch my reflection in the glass as I pass through it; where is the little boy?

The door slams shut. One seat is open. As the vessel lurches forward I slide in next to the girl by the window. “Hello” I say. “Hi” she says. It was a nice moment.

Floating in a Sea of Marginality

Post One in the writing experiment “Bored With My Bad Self.” Please click here to start the essay with its prelude.

Have you ever wandered into a group event, picked up a glass and a snack, and scanned the room for someone to talk to? Someone who gets you, who will be The Conversational Holy Grail? If you’re like me, you usually move from group to group to group and never feel like you really fit anywhere, especially if it’s a Secret Society of People Who Have Something in Common.

Take my marriage to MTM, the Architect Who Also Used to Be in Academia. Part of being a Card-Carrying Academic is giving lectures, watching lectures, and discussing the intricate possible meanings of those lectures. For HOURS and HOURS and HOURS and HOURS and HOURS. This can leave the non-architect in a bewildered stupor, grappling for anything worthy to contribute to the conversation over the course of an evening.

Especially when everyone knows you are Not One of Them as soon as you open your timid trap.

In the early days of my relationship with MTM, I tried to fit. Granted, I had no design training. I didn’t know the difference between Frank Gehry and Frank Lloyd Wright. In college, I did not stay awake for three or four consecutive years in Studio, fueling my frenzy of creativity with caffeine and Radiohead. I could not fathom their Experience, why it made them talk for hours about the Feeling of the Perfect Chair Against their Buttocks, the Extra Line That Doesn’t Need to Be There…That One…..Right There, the Assaultive and Possibly Brain-Damaging Qualities of Floral Print, and Worship at the Altar of Design Within Reach.

About the only thing that gave me any comfort at these interminable outings was the knowledge that every single one of these people would always have a pen. They might not let me touch it, or they might let me use it and hover in my personal space to make sure my ‘borrowing’ didn’t turn into ‘kidnapping their precious baby.’ Still, I knew I could take notes about the myriad incomprehensible words and phrases with the hopes of looking a few of them up when no one was around to see how much I didn’t know.

Yes, eventually I got over being intimidated by people I’ve grown to love. That fact doesn’t make me fit any better within these Secret Handshake Clubs.

Sometimes, the best way to communicate how we feel is by making the other person experience it first-hand. The tables were turned on my Architect Friend Alice several years ago. She accompanied me to a continuing education conference for Pencil-Headed Certified Public Accountants. We decided to take a wine tour of the Willamette Valley with the conference group. Alice averted her eyes as we loaded ourselves into the purple van decorated with garish painted grapes and settled in for the hour-long ride.

It was a raucous bunch. These people regaled us with stories of Shredding Parties, Little-Known Facts About the IRS, the Merit of Internal Revenue Code Section 4,325,698,235 (Z)(2,456,111)(aa)(450 to the 25th power), and Their Favorite Audits of All Time. Alice looked at me about ten minutes into the (even to me) insufferable trek. Shell-shocked horror etching her lovely, glasses-clad visage, she whispered, “Is THIS what you feel like in a room full of architects??????”


It is.

It’s also how I feel in every conceivable convening of The Secret Society of the Uterus….


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