Huge Historic Renovation in Auburn

Old Brick Building
I should say first off that by "historic renovation" I mean that someone bought a really old building and they're peeling back all of the layers of history and giving it new life. This project is not a restoration project at all. The new owners are turning this thing into a single family residence, complete with yard and driveway, which I think is great. Check the links to see what the plans are, what progress they've made so far, and to explore the really cool website they made to document it all.

Beyond the fact that it's old and cool and located in Auburn, this building is special to me because of all the time I spent staring at it and drawing it one semester. In a third year studio at Auburn, we spent a lot of time considering the value and character of different materials and how those qualities change with time. One day we went out to the above building as a class and talked about how the different physical pieces of the building were aging. We looked at the bricks, the concrete, the window panes, the mullions and door hardware. For many of us, it was the first time we had ever intentionally studied the way that different materials age; some develop an attractive patina, while others are completely destroyed. Some materials look great after 80 years of rain and sun (this building was built in 1920). Others simply deteriorate.

So what's the difference? Why is it that a 200 year old brick wall can look so beautiful, while so many other materials just look like garbage? [Obviously, lots of reasons, but that's not the point.]

For me, the most resonant question that came out of this discussion was this:

"What if this was porcelain?"

Now I know that this question isn't profound in any way. It's very straightforward, actually. But every once in a while, someone puts something to you in such a way that it resonates, and previously inaccessible understanding strikes you as the purest common sense. That's how this was for me, and I still find myself asking this question all of the time. "Yes, but if it was porcelain..." Light, shadow, texture, acoustics, even time - everything about the way we experience it would be completely different.

SO, my class visited this building, but, as with most good academic lessons, the discussion was followed by an exercise. While onsite, we took photographs and measurements so that we could go back to studio and draw the building in as photorealistic a way as possible. Each portion of the building was assigned to a pair of students. In each pair of students, one drew in black and white (all graphite), while the other drew in full color (colored pencils).

We spent hours and hours and hours shading patches of moss on individual bricks, copying the shadows cast by overhead power lines, and, in my case, replicating the many layers of semi-obscene graffiti. That's part of why I'm talking about this renovation project. The building is special to me and I think it's a funny story. I spent many hours painstakingly recreating something that a drunk idiot threw up on a wall in seconds.

I didn't finish, but the results of my color rendering are below. The trained eye can clearly see the point at which I decided that the deadline was too rapidly approaching, and that I had better abandon my high standards if I had any hope of finishing in time. Alas! to no avail.


If you're interested, you can see the second rendering I did, this one in black and white with a little billboard contraption attached to it. I'm not sure why I thought that was a good idea.

When I see people taking old abandoned buildings and bringing them back to life I get really happy and really jealous. I'm glad that some people value the things that I value, but I wish that they had given all of their money to me so that I could do it instead of them. There are loads of buildings in Atlanta that I want to buy. I even know which ones are for sale and about how much they'd cost me. [Also, remember this one?]

This project in particular, though, makes me want to go back because it's in Auburn. There was a building in Auburn that my roommates and I always talked about taking over and turning into a restaurant or something. It's a two-story infill building right next to the railroad tracks. The wall of the building that faces Toomer's Corner - the intersection where Auburn's downtown meets the University campus - is a full-size pastel painting of a street bicycle, with an old-school type across the top that says "the freewheeler". If we ever took it over, the first order of business would be to repaint that wall, not to cover over it, but to sharpen all of the lines that have faded over the years.

I even included the building in the study area for my graduate thesis. You can't see much of it here, but it's the baby-blue one on the left. Every once in a while someone will recognize it in an interview or something, and most people remember it fondly. Maybe I should start a Kickstarter for the Freewheeler Cafe.


From my friend Phil.

Craig Mod on Books in the Age of the iPad

Excellent and thoughtful consideration of the relationship between content and its container (books, periodicals, digital devices, etc.) and the future of ink and paper books in light of new technology. This post is a bit old now, but I was reviewing some old bookmark links (via Instapaper, which I love) and I remembered my favorite part about this article. Not only am I a bit of a book junkie - like him, I love what he calls the "sexy-as-hell tactility of those little ink and paper bricks" - I'm also a designer, and in the realm of brick and mortar. At the end of his article, he predicts the future of book making, and I was struck by the strong correlation between his views on books and my views on buildings and cities. His words:

"I propose the following to be considered whenever we think of printing a book:

The Books We Make embrace their physicality — working in concert with the content to illuminate the narrative.
The Books We Make are confident in form and usage of material.
The Books We Make exploit the advantages of print.
The Books We Make are built to last. (Fig. 9a, 9b)

The result of this is:

The Books We Make will feel whole and solid in the hands.
The Books We Make will smell like now forgotten, far away libraries.
The Books We Make will be something of which even our children — who have fully embraced all things digital — will understand the worth.
The Books We Make will always remind people that the printed book can be a sculpture for thoughts and ideas.

Anything less than this will be stepped over and promptly forgotten in the digital march forward.

Goodbye disposable books.

Hello new canvases."

Think about real places versus digital places. This same battle is raging everywhere you look. Think Barnes & Noble vs. Amazon, CD Warehouse (remember?) vs. iTunes, Blockbuster vs. Netflix, etc. The list is long (SEE ALSO). In light of new technology, brick and mortar places seem to have a diminishing value. When everyone is highly mobile and communication to anywhere in the world is effortless and instant, it leaves little incentive to invest in an actual place, whether it's a city, town, or neighborhood.

I respect what Mr. Mod is saying about books: when we no longer need to make them, we will choose to make them and their design will communicate their value. In the same way, in an age in which we no longer need to build great cities or great buildings, I hope that when the rare opportunity to make a great place or to build something that will last comes along we'll be able as a society to rally around the cause and pour in the money and talent and great energy required to do so.

I would love to be able to say "Goodbye disposable buildings" or, even better, "Goodbye disposable cities" but I don't know if or when it's going to happen.

SEE ALSO: All through college I wrote papers about extreme cases of digitized experiences nullifying the need for real spaces. One of the best examples I found was a drive-thru viewing before a funeral in California. Mourners had to wait in line, not to see the body of their dearly departed, but to see a live video feed of the dearly departed, and all from the detached comfort of their car. Who needs a funeral home, right? Who needs a space crafted to offer comfort and solace and warmth and shelter to the grieving? I suppose the only people who need such spaces are probably too busy to ignore the time saving advantages of a drive through.

You should probably look at all of Craig Mod’s stuff. It’s all good, and this especially is beautiful to read and to look at.

Apple’s Core Value

"But Apple's about something more than that. Apple at the core, its core value is that we believe that people with passion can change the world for the better."

Steve Jobs via 9-bits.

Everything’s Amazing & Nobody’s Happy

Yesterday I posted a response to some iPad linkbait from Paul Thurrott (my post here), and I'm happy to report that what could have been a purely negative experience has actually produced a lot of good. Not only did his post occasion my first ever submittal to Literally, A Weblog, but it also led me to Jonathan Forsythe's Moderately Offensive Commentary where I found this excellent video. Apparently it's been around for over a year and no one bothered to tell me about it.

It's funny because it's true. I wrote about some of these ideas a while ago and linked back to Josh Blankenship who talks about these issues all the time. He's actually at it again today with "Stands < Scrimmage Line".

But back to the video: be thankful, be patient, and maybe try to contribute to the world every once in a while. There's nothing less becoming than our ridiculous modern sense of entitlement.

via Jonathan Forsythe

Sublime Architecture Takes a Turn for the Organically Complex

It's growing increasingly difficult for me to enjoy this kind of work. I guess I just don't see the point anymore. If this work has value because it's new and exciting and perversely beautiful, then I guess that's okay. And I suppose there's some inherent value in novelty; of course there's (probably) value inherent in pushing the boundaries of any given field, but I'm not interested in making spaces like these. I don't really see much potential for inhabiting them, either. They don't move me or inspire me and if I'm honest, I find them annoying. Is it mortal architectural sin to say that this level of formal abstraction is a waste of time, talent, and money? I have no problem conceding that this stuff takes incredible effort and that maybe I'm poo-pooing works of immeasurable genius, but there it is. Sometimes architecture is too introspective and that's lame and disappointing.

It's also annoying that work like this is often accompanied by words like these:

"Expressing grand passions and utopian ideas, Sublime Spaces illuminate the emotional involvement between the creator and the user of architecture spaces."


"Housed in the Nave of Christ Church Spitalfields and displaying designs for churches, mosques and other spiritual spaces, the exhibition will offer a direct dialogue between historic and contemporary theology, theory and practice."

Theology? Really? Ugh...

If you do work like this, then you should know that I'm not mad at you. I admire your craft and skill and creativity. I just hope that architecture doesn't continue creeping towards some new wayward psychotic style-ism.

Pomplamoose Again


Maybe it's not worth saying, and maybe I'm misunderstanding, but I'm pretty sure they're making fun of Lady Gaga (or this genre or our twelve year old culture). What's great about it is that the way they mock her is oddly positive and constructive. Instead of criticizing in the usual internet way - ie. "you f****** suck" or "you're a F****** N*****" or, my personal favorite, "go F*** yourself, F*****" - they're doing it by putting in a ton of excellent work. It's clever, they're talented, and the end result isn't mockery for meanness' sake, but a great fun video.

So what I'm praising here is a bit of an oxymoron, but I think it's nice to see someone really take the time to mock something well. It's too easy to sit back and throw stones - profanity-laced, bigoted, hateful stones - at the people who are actually out there creating. I say you're only allowed to throw stones if you're willing to put yourself out there and make something, and making something great that also happens to throw stones totally qualifies.

I guess I think that putting time and effort into something gives it an inherent value (perhaps not much, but...). Cussing someone out has no value because it's easy. Write a detailed, reasoned and well-argued rant about why something is in fact "gay as hell" or whatever and, while I won't read it or respect your opinion, I think most would agree that your thoughts are worth considerably more for your emotional commitment to them (and I appreciate the opportunity to throw stones at your rant).

Easy things lack value. Pomplamoose videos are full of it (IMHO).

Coincidentally, this reminds me of another excellent Blankenship post about the nature of comments and criticism on the web.


Snakebit Missionaries

In the South, it's very common for a dozen high school or college kids to pile into a bus or plane bound for Mexico to "build" a church or school or house. These mission trips used to bother me a lot. I resented the rich American kids and their professional (but good hearted) parents shelling out $500 a pop to spend a vacation in a semi-exotic local where they "worked" for people in need. The sense of self-satisfaction it gave the kids, I found doubly annoying. It was as if the kids didn't get the joke: Those needy people could have built something better in half the time with less than the amount of money it cost to get even one of you down there. If you or your parents or your church really wanted to help I thought, you should have cancelled the trip and sent the money instead, right?

I don't feel this way anymore because now I get it, and now I believe that churches and parents get it as well. I heard a minister say "Of course these types of trips are for the people going. If it wasn't about the kids going, we'd just send money." They're working a long-term, world changing strategy here - a Snakebit mentality. Sambo Mockbee felt the same way, I think. Infect the wealthy with service and care and they'll never get enough of serving.