Monday, March 30, 2009

Why you should hire an architect, Part 2

Continuing from my recent post about why you should hire an architect, I thought I’d write a little bit more about how using an architect can save you time and maybe even money.

Everyone knows that an architect designs a building but a lot of people don’t realize how we help during construction. It’s not uncommon for client to hire us to design and draw their new house or renovation and, then, for them to take the drawings to a contractor and not call us again. This is fine, of course, as most of the time a residential project is going to be pretty straightforward. Even for simple project though, it can take a lot of time on the part of the client to make sure everything goes smoothly. I have heard of instances where the client ended up taking a leave of absence from their job in order to manage their construction project. This is clearly an instance in which it might make more sense to have your architect manage the construction administration phase of the project.

What does an architect do during construction? There are many things but I'll try to list a few here. We answer the contractor’s questions, clarify the intent of the design drawings, ensure that the best and most cost effective products are chosen, and generally make sure that the building is being built as designed. An architect will also oversee the costs of construction by having the GC submit their bills to us for review before sending them on to the client. We make sure that everything the contractor is billing for has actually been built or purchased and that the contractor is not asking for money for things that haven’t really been done.

Everyone has heard horror stories about contractors getting lots of money up front to buy materials and then running off without actually doing any work. Fortunately that’s never happened to one of our clients but that’s probably because we recommend not paying the contractors in advance. A reputable contractor will have lines of credit with suppliers and will not need cash in advance. Of course, your architect can also help you make sure you hire a good contractor!

For those of you with more questions about what an architect does, there are many books out there about the process of hiring and using an architect. Or, you can just e-mail me and I’m happy to answer any questions you have.

Friday, March 27, 2009

How to Design

I was recently introduced to a blog by book cover designer Henry Sene Yee. At the top of the page is this little nugget, which I wanted to share with you all:

First you start with a blank page, stare and think really hard, drink lots of coffee, take lots of breaks, fix the copier jam, update your Facebook page, get over the fears that this project is the one that will finally expose you as the hack that you are, and then just trust to do what you feel is right from what you've read, present your ideas to find out how they live outside of your head, listen to feedback, try to leave work at a decent hour, have a life, floss, get enough sleep, have a good breakfast and come back the next day to redo it all over again. It's that simple and fun. And if it isn't, then get another blank page and start all over again.
That description applies to just about all design, I think, not just book cover design.

The designs on the site are very nice, too - I recommend you check it out.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Review: The Last Colony

The Last Colony is the third book in John Scalzi's Old Man's War series. After first meeting John Perry and Jane Sagan in Old Man's War and meeting their adopted daughter Zoë in The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony is the story of how they move to a new planet, dubbed Roanoke, to lead settlers from all the major human worlds in the formation of a new colony. What they didn't realize when they accepted the job, though, is that they and the colony are merely pawns in a political game. And while John, Jane and Zoë didn't get themselves into this morass, they can only rely on themselves - and maybe Zoë's devoted Obin followers - to get out of it.

OMW was a real heart-pumping action kind of book. Things slowed down and took a more introspective turn in Ghost Brigades. Last Colony, again, features less action than OMW, but also less philosophy than Ghost Brigades. Instead, we get an intriguing political thriller. I particularly liked the insights this book had into some of the non-human cultures. This is a great book, one that I relished and made me sigh with satisfaction when I put it down.

All in all, I loved this trilogy.* I loved OMW best of the three, but really, these are all marvelous books. I recommend them to everyone, not just regular readers of sci-fi.

Buy The Last Colony on Amazon. And, seriously, do. Have I not hyped John Scalzi enough yet?

*Yes, I know its not a trilogy anymore, with the publication of Zoe's Tale, but it was originally written that way and these three books form a beginning, a middle and an end. I haven't read Zoe's Tale yet, but I get the feeling that it is a special sauce to the trilogy, not a new direction.

Why you should hire an architect

After my earlier post (in response to article suggesting you "ditch your architect"), I saw this article (via Archinect) praising the website Now, this one doesn't make blood boil quite as much. Pre-prepared house plans have been around for forever and as far as these things go, the ones on aren't so bad. So instead of railing against them, I thought I'd try to make a case in favor of hiring an architect, using a few real world examples. Here's one to start:

Recently, we had a client for a commercial project ask us to help him out with a small residential project. Years ago, his family had illegally (i.e., without permit) built a bathroom off a small family room, next to the garage. The time had come to sell the house and, in this market, they wanted to maximize their chances of selling. This meant selling the house with a clean title, in other words, they needed to legalize the bathroom. This can be a pretty straightforward process: draw up the plan as it exists, show the minor changes that need to be made to bring the bathroom in line with the current code, submit to the city, pay your fees, do the work, call it a day.

Except when we took the plans to the city, they had no record showing the family room had ever existed and claimed that the client was trying to illegally create a second unit (an apartment) in their house, since the family room could be accessed through the garage, without ever going through the rest of the house. We protested, pointing out that the family room was original to the house and that it was a no-brainer to want a convenient bathroom to serve that room, none of which mean that anyone was ever going to live in this room. The city said no and demanded proof that the room was built with the rest of the house, back in the 50's. My client has only had the house since the 80's and had never seen the original drawings so he was concerned that this was an impossible task. I thought it was B.S., though, so I asked to see the city's permit history for the property. This meant going through microfiche files, not the most fun task I can think of for anyone. It took me a while, peering at the microfiche screen with a magnifying glass, trying to see what looked relevant. Sadly, the files did not contain any original drawings and, in fact, contained a drawing that seemed to show the opposite of what I wanted to find! Eventually, though, I found an electrical fixture schedule that included a room count with how many fixtures were installed in each room. And, bingo!, there was our mysterious family room, listed at the very bottom. After seeing that, the city had to concede that the family room was original and allowed the client to move forward with legalizing his bathroom.

What would have happened if our client didn't have an architect? He would have had to either a) rip out the entire family room and bathroom, making them part of the garage or b) bring the entire floor up to current building code, at a cost of about $20k. Neither of these would improve the bottom line. Yes, he had to pay me for a day's worth of work to go to the city, find those documents and argue with the city officials. But I don't make $20k a day (I wish!) and he gets to keep his family room and bathroom. So, anyone want to argue that "architects cost too much money" or that "a good builder can do anything an architect can do"?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bloody Bookmarks

It looks like these cool bookmarks are from Japan, based on the packaging. Anyone know if they are available in the US?

Architecture Links columnist Scott Van Voorhis is suggesting that you "ditch the architect" and save yourself some money for your next home renovation project. Unless you are doing a simple renovation or addition (under 100 sf), DO NOT LISTEN TO HIM. And I'm not just saying that because my livelihood literally depends on it. Many times, on small projects, I have recommended that a potential client talk to a builder before an architect. But these are very small jobs and none have involved changes to the building's appearance. Do you know how few good builders are also good designers? Virtually none. And almost no city in the US will allow you to make exterior alterations to a building without getting permission from your local planning department, something a builder is likely to have no experience with. What saddens me is that clearly my profession has done a poor job of explaining why we are worthwhile to the public at large. (via Archinect)

In this video, well-known architect Robert A.M. Stern is asked why are there fewer women architects than men. His response? Women are forced to choose between having families and being successful architects. I think he probably is right but why, in this day and age, is that still considered to be a woman's issue and not an issue for every one of us? I'm sure there are many male architects out there who would prefer to spend more time with their families and are just as torn about their career and their home life.

Okay, on to happier subjects...

I thought this was interesting (from Jezebel):
Prada's favorite architect, Rem Koolhaas produced the brand's spring look book... Koolhaas' offering fits with the trend of ever more bizarre look books — there's a classical theme, with models Photoshopped to look like crumbling statuary and other weird and wonderful effects.

For those of you who have always wondered why the Washington Monument changes color about a third of the way up, mental floss has published an interesting little history lesson.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: Magic Lessons

Magic Lessons is in the second book in the Magic or Madness trilogy written by Justine Larbalestier.
Fifteen-year-old Reason Cansino has learned the painful truth that she— like her mother, grandmother, and new friends Tom and Jay-Tee—must make a choice: to use the magic that lives in her blood and die young, or refuse to use the magic and lose her mind. Now a new threat leaves Reason stranded alone in New York City, struggling to control a power she barely understands. But could the danger she faces also hold the key to saving her life?
Magic Lessons is a good book but it doesn't quite stand on its own - it feels a little too in-between for me. The story moves very quickly (both to read and in time - the entire books takes place in just a matter of days) and I wish more time had been spent on learning more about Reason's grandmother and on the teen's magic lessons. I think that there is something unique and fascinating about the world Larbalestier has created, and yet I feel like its flying by in a blur, with no time to explore, as we are caught up in the plot. Primarily, Magic Lessons served to make me want to read the final book in the trilogy, Magic's Child, to find out what's going to happen.

Buy Magic Lessons on Amazon.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Online Reviews

From The Economist: If a book on, the leading online retailer, already has hundreds of reviews, is it worth bothering to add another?

Review: The Serpent's Tale

The Serpent's Tale is Ariana Franklin's second novel about medieval medical examiner Adelia Aguilar. (Warning: this review contains a spoiler for Mistress of the Art of Death.)

After King Henry II's mistress Rosamund Clifford is poisoned and suspicion naturally falls on the queen, Eleanor of Aquitane, Adelia is called in to find out who really killed Rosamund. She is summoned, not by Henry*, but by Henry's loyal "fixer" Rowley Picot, the new Bishop of St. Albans, who also happens to be father to Adelia's daughter, Allie. After a macabre visit to Rosamund's isolated tower, Adelia and her entourage are kept trapped at Godstow convent with rebellious Queen Eleanor, and as the body count begins to rise, they quickly realize that the murderer must be there as well and that Adelia better figure out who it is before she and Allie are the next targets.

This is an engaging book - part thriller, murder mystery and historical fiction, the drama keeps the book moving at a quick pace and the well-rounded characters are all fascinating portraits. My only quibble with the book was that there was much less of the process and insight into Adelia's thinking that kept me riveted in Mistress of the Art of Death (see my review here). But Serpent's Tale stands on its own well and makes me look forward to the next book in the series, Grave Goods.

Buy The Serpent's Tale on Amazon.
Visit author Ariana Franklin online.

*Annoyingly, even the product description on the publisher's own website gets this wrong, even though it's a big plot point. Do copywriters actually read the books they are supposed to be summarizing? Yes, Henry wants Adelia on the case, but before that, it is Rowley's idea to bring her in, before he even tells the king that Rosamund is dead. *headdesk*

Friday, March 20, 2009

Friday Update

I think the lesson this week is two-fold: 1) Half-Price Books is amazing and 2) I should probably not be allowed to shop there. In related news, we passed the 2,000 book mark in our Library Thing library. The library consists of all the books that are physically in our house, so, yes, we have no more room. Will that stop us? I doubt it.

In addition to trying to round out some of our book collections (for me, Margaret Frazer's medieval mysteries and for Chris, the rest of the Thieve's World graphic novels), I also picked up a memoir that looked intriguing: Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller.
In Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Alexandra Fuller remembers her African childhood with candor and sensitivity. Though it is a diary of an unruly life in an often inhospitable place, it is suffused with Fuller’s endearing ability to find laughter, even when there is little to celebrate. Fuller’s debut is unsentimental and unflinching but always captivating. In wry and sometimes hilarious prose, she stares down disaster and looks back with rage and love at the life of an extraordinary family in an extraordinary time.

That's it for today from me. Have a wonderful weekend!

Love your Indie Bookstore

Via Scalzi:

March-is-love-your-Indie-Bookstore: The Contest

How to Play:
  • Go to a local independent bookstore.
  • Buy something.
  • Save the receipt.
  • Send a photo or scan of the receipt to author Joe Hill.
  • Be entered in the chance to win awesome things, like a Limited Edition copy of the Newbury Award winning THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman or a Limited Edition copy of DROOD by Dan Simmons or an ARC of WHERE EVERYTHING ENDS by Ray Bradbury or a signed hardcover of AGENT TO THE STARS by John Scalzi*.
Good luck and have fun shopping!

*except that its going to be mine, so hands off!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: Magic or Madness

After reading Justine Larbalestier's blog for the past couple of months, I finally got around to reading one of her books - Magic or Madness, her first novel and the first in a trilogy.

Fifteen-year-old Reason Cansino has lived all her life in the outback with her mother, Sarafina, on the run from her evil grandmother, Esmeralda. Esmeralda believes in magic and practices horrifying dark rituals. But when Sarafina suffers a mental breakdown, Reason is sent to the one place she fears most—Esmeralda’s house in Sydney.
Nothing about the house or Esmeralda is what Reason expected. For the first time she finds herself questioning her mother’s teachings. Then when she walks through Esmeralda’s back door in Sydney and finds herself on a New York City street, Reason is forced to face the truth. Magic is real. And Reason is magic.
This is an interesting book. Larbalestier as created a whole new world and sympathetic, compelling characters. Like many books that are the start of a series, much of the book is spent building up this world, especially its take on the rules of magic. Fortunately, I found this building process to be engaging. The plot is relatively spare but works - it is a good place to hang all the other story elements on. There are some darker themes (the madness of the title is real, sadly) that give weight to the story as well.

The book is written from three different points of view (Reason's, Tom's and Jay-Tee's; Tom is Esmeralda's apprentice and Jay-Tee is the girl who befriends Reason in NY). Somehow, though, none of the voices of these characters entirely clicked for me. I read through it very quickly, enjoying it but not entirely engaged. And, of course, I'm not a teen anymore, so younger readers may not feel the same way I did.

That said, I've already gotten the sequel, Magic Lessons, from the library and am looking forward to diving in - the pleasure here, for me, was definitely in seeing where this structure Larbalestier has set up will take us. YA fantasy fans should take a look at Magic or Madness.

Buy Magic or Madness on Amazon.

Dreamers of Dreams

Good morning! Just wanted to share...

0de by Arthur O’Shaughnessy [1844-1881]

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities.
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion art empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample in empire down.

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth.
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

The poster for the upcoming Where the Wild Things Are movie was released. I had no idea this was in the works, but I'm intrigued. I have fond memories of reading this one (or having it read to me, more accurately) as a kid. Apparently, the production has had its kinks. This is from a LA Times article, published last July:
Something has gone very wrong with "Where the Wild Things Are," the much-anticipated Spike Jonze adaptation of Maurice Sendak's classic children's book. The $80-million film, with a script by literary cool-guy Dave Eggers, was filmed largely in the second half of 2006 in Australia. It was originally slated for release this October but got pushed back to the fall of 2009. Last week it disappeared entirely from the Warner Bros. release schedule, a sign of continuing troubles.
EW says that the movie will now be released this October 19.

How to Mess with your Phone Company

Just making sure you all saw this (from the FAIL blog)...

Review: Mistress of the Art of Death

I read Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin ages ago, so this may not be my best review, to be honest (though I did flip through my copy to refresh my memory). Since I read the sequel, The Serpent's Tale over the weekend, though, I thought I'd write about both of these really interesting mysteries.

Mistress of the Art of Death Description:
In medieval Cambridge, four children have been murdered. Wrongly accused of the crimes, a small community of Jews threatened by Catholic mobs is given sanctuary by Henry II. To assist i proving their innocence, he summons an expert in the science of deduction and the art of death. She is Adelia, a prodigy from the Medical School of Salerno, and an anomaly in a medical world, who is forced to conceal her identity and her purpose from England's grave superstitions and condemnation. One man willing to work with her is Sir Rowley Picot. His personal stake in the investigation makes him an invaluable ally - and in Adelia's eyes, a suspect as well. From navigating Cambridge's perilous river paths to penetrating the dark shadows of the Church, Adelia's investigations will not only reveal the secrets of the dead, but in time, the far more dangerous ones buried by the living.
It was my husband (who, as I believe I've mentioned before, is an anatomist) that first found this book. He was intrigued by the idea of a medieval medical examiner. When he read it in a few short days, which is a rarity, given his busy schedule, I knew that this was a winner. After reading it myself, I was not disappointed.

The story is pretty brutal - there's a lot of violence and the mystery is quite creepy to read about,so this book may not be for everyone. But the setting of the book is fascinating. Even though I'm not the anatomist in the family, I thought that reading about Adelia's work and process was one of the most interesting part of the book. I also thought that Adelia and the other characters were well developed, especially the dynamic between her and Rowley.

This book is an interesting mix of mystery and historical fiction - I recommend it to anyone who likes either genre.

Buy Mistress of the Art of Death on Amazon.
Visit the author's website

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cadfael Update and Mini-Review

I read two more of the Brother Cadfael medieval mystery books on my trip this past weekend and have updated my list accordingly. The books were The Raven in the Foregate and The Rose Rent (the links will take you to Amazon). Both were engaging, though I thought the Rose Rent plotline was the most implausible of all the Cadfael books I've read so far. And while I'm still enjoying the books, I'm starting to see the same plot points and variations-on-a-theme characters, which is starting to get a bit old. Brother Cadfael, though, is still a comfortable character to be around, which makes this series worth reading.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Home Again

Hey, there, fun-seekers (as my mom always says), sorry about the quiet -- I've been out of town since last week. I didn't have the time to schedule any posts before I left and had no inclination to sit at a computer while I was away. I did lots of reading on my trip, though, so I'll post this week about what I've been reading. I'm also going to try to catch up with my Google reader. There are 650 unread posts in it now, so it may take a while!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: The Reincarnationist

The Reincarnationist by MJ Rose is a hard book to define. Its not quite a mystery, not quite historical fiction, not really a fantasy. Its a thriller, with bits of fantasy and history woven in.

Searching for answers about the ancient flashbacks photojournalist Josh Ryder keeps experiencing, he turns to the Phoenix Foundation, a secret organization that documents cases of past life experiences in children.
His findings there lead him to an archaeological dig and to Professor Gabriella Chase, who has discovered an ancient tomb -- a tomb with a powerful secret that threatens to merge the past with the present. Here, the dead call out to the living, and murders of the past become murders of the present.
It took me a while to get into this book. Moving back and forth between the past and present, the story was a little choppy and there were so many characters, it was hard to connect with any of them. But after sticking with it, I found myself engrossed and really wanting to know what would happen.

I especially recommend this book to anyone who is interested in past life research, as the topic is woven through the modern-day portions of the book, to good effect.

Buy The Reincarnationist on Amazon.

I'll be diving into the sequel The Memorist soon.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review: Kitty and the Midnight Hour

I've been on a major dark/urban fantasy kick recently, so was very excited to pick up Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn not too long ago. This is the first book in the Kitty Norville Series, about a werewolf who hosts a call-in radio talk show. After talking down the hunter/assassin who's gunning for her in the middle of a show, Kitty gets swept up into a police hunt for a serial killer, all while trying to juggle the demands from her pack leader and his nasty partner.

The premise of the book is great and the story just flies by. I'm not so sure, though, about Kitty. She was just so passive in her own life, especially in her damaging relationship with her pack leader. But the book makes is clear that Kitty is growing up and that makes me hope that she'll become a more captivating character as the series progresses.

Buy Kitty and the Midnight Hour on Amazon.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Movie Mini-Review: Watchmen

Husband and I went to see Watchmen last night. As I wrote previously, I read the book pretty recently and liked it, but wasn't blown away by it. Similarly, I liked the movie, but didn't love it. It was even more violent than the book, well past what I thought was needed. My favorite thing about the book is the structure (the use of comic book and other texts to comment on the main story, etc) and that's the one thing that didn't translate onto the screen, not surprisingly.

The one thing that annoyed both my husband and I was, when did these characters become superheroes? In the book, it is clear that Dr. Manhattan has nothing in common with the others, in that he has actually super powers. The line to that effect kind of made it into the movie but didn't have the same impact. To me, the book is about normal people who, for whatever reason, put on masks to fight. In the movie, they are no longer normal -- too strong, too fast. To avoid a spoiler, I'll just say, since when can Ozymadias do *that*?

I do want to note that this is not a kid's movie. It is a hard R, with a lot of violence, graphic sex and very visible (blue!) genitalia.

That said, visually its a very sumptuous movie and interesting to watch. The end lasted a bit too long, in my opinion, but otherwise I though the pace moved well, despite the almost 3-hour running time. Watchmen fans have probably already gone to see it, so for those of you on the fence, I'll give a cautious yes to seeing it.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Architecture Links ... and a Secret Room

Here's a wonderful post of beautiful libraries from Curious Expeditions. I've written about a few before, including the Boston Copley Square Library and Beinecke Library at Yale.

More ecclesiastical design from WebUrbanist - this time, it's 15 Amazing Monasteries, Sanctuaries and Abbies. I'd like to point out, though, that there are really only 14 on the list, as the Monastery at Petra is not actually a monastery.

What's behind the bookcase?

Find out at Apartment Therapy.

I also found online directions to build a bookshelf door for your very own secret room.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Review: The Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades is the sequel to Old Man's War. It is, though, a very different book. It is set in the same universe - a dangerous world, where the Colonial Defense Forces have genetically transformed humans into crack soldiers, fighting against alien races for the same planets to colonize. Even better than the regular soldiers are the elite members of the Special Forces, who are grown in a lab, using the DNA from the dead. When military scientist Charles Boutin turns traitor and provokes a war, the CDF needs to find out why. Enter Jared Dirac, created from Boutin's DNA and loaded with his electronic memories.
But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given over to the Ghost Brigades. At first Jared is a perfect soldier, but as memories surface, he begins to intuit the reasons for Boutin's betrayal. ... Time is running out: the [enemy] alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity's mere military defeat ....
As I said, The Ghost Brigade is quite different from OMW. While there is action, it's not an action book. There's quite a bit of talking and philosophizing, lot of time spent on the ethics and politics of this society. I read a couple of reviews on Amazon and Librarything by people who disliked that about this book, but I thought it was really interesting. But what really drew me in was Jared. Even in a society that doesn't always regard the Special Forces as human, Jared is an outsider. But I found him to be very sympathetic (especially since we the readers spend much of the book inside his head). At certain points in the story, my heart really went out to Jared.

While it doesn't have quite the same heart-pounding excitement of Old Man's War, The Ghost Brigades is a wonderful book. I highly recommend it. On to the third book in this series, The Last Colony!

Buy The Ghost Brigades on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Speed Reader

I happened to see Monday's Musing Mondays question at the same time I was thinking about speed reading, so I thought I'd put it altogether and write about my thoughts here.
When reading do you read every word? Do you ever skip chapters or skim over parts?
I read fast. Okay, not as fast as some people (S. Krishna, I'm looking at you!), but faster than most. I always read fast as a kid. During English class, when we'd read out loud, I was always getting in trouble for not paying attention, not knowing when it was my turn. The truth was that I wasn't daydreaming, I was reading ahead. At first, my teachers would be annoyed but usually, once they realized that my comprehension was as good as (if not better than) most of my classmates, they'd get over it. Pretty soon, I'd finish the book and pull out the next one.

Years later, I heard a talk on speed reading and I realized that that was what I had unconsciously been doing all along. The method the speaker described involved scanning a page to identify key points, then going back and filling in the gaps, but paying particular attention to the first and last sentences in a paragraph, people's/character's names and other words that appear important. I tend to read an entire block of text at a time, rather than word by word. All of this happens faster than I can think about it, though. At the end of a page, I've read every word but have paid more attention to some. This does mean that sometimes I will miss inflection, as I may not read all the words on a page in the order they were written, but that's rare.

What's the upshot of this? Not much. The only thing I've ever really been able to identify as a problem is that I have a very hard time reading poetry. When I hear poetry, I understand it fine, but the words in a poem are meant to be read in a certain order, so I can't really do it.

Are any of you speed readers? Did you learn to do it intentionally or did you, like me, naturally start reading that way?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Gordon Matta-Clark

As I mentioned before, one of my favorite artists is Gordon Matta-Clark, who passed away in 1978. Matta-Clark started out intending to become an architect but never ended up practicing. Instead, he called his work "Anarchitecture" and explored buildings/built space by taking them apart, analyzing, literally cutting buildings up to reveal something new. Its a kind of de-construction* and it is very powerful work.

The photograph above is of Splitting, from 1974. Like much of his work, the piece is site specific, known to the public mostly in photographs. He is sometimes referred to as a photographer, but his work is so spatial, I think of his mostly as a sculptor. Rather than creating through addition, though, he works primarily through subtraction.

One of my favorite pieces of Matta-Clark's, and one of the few that I have been able to see in person (part of, at least), is Bingo (above). In it, Matta-Clark divided the facade of a house into a nine-square grid**. After cutting the facade, Matta-Clark exhibited the grid squares. At the time, the nine-square grid, developed by architect John Hejduk, was a bit of an obsession in some architectural circles and was a common assignment for architecture students. Many years later, I was assigned the nine-square grid problem so when found Matta-Clark's interpretation, I literally laughed out loud and fell in love a little bit.

There's so much more to explore in his work, and since smarter people than I have written about Matta-Clark, I encourage you to poke around on the links I've included here to find out more. The first photo here is from Tate Papers, where there are many more images and interesting thoughts from an exhibit the Tate did a few years ago.

*Not to be confused with deconstructivism, the architectural style practiced by Peter Eisenman, Bernard Tschumi, etc.
**A nine-square grid looks like a tic-tac-toe grid, just a 3x3 box. All the good images of what I mean are copyrighted, so look here real quick so you know what I mean.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Art & Architecture Links

This is becoming a thing for me now, it seems.

From WebUrbanist, 15 Immaculate Temples, Cathedrals and Churches. I don't get what they mean by immaculate, though. Oh, and if you're wondering why Darth Vader is up there, he's a gargoyle at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. I'd love to go one of their gargoyle tours someday.

Here's interview from Arch Daily I found interesting: Building on Canvas: Sarah McKenzie and the New American Landscape.

As the article says:
In recent years, the art world has played host to a number of lively explorations of architecture and the built environment. (In 2006, The New Yorker went so far as to snipe, “Painting about architecture has become popular to the point of excess, much the way seventies artists went overboard on the cube.”) By looking at architecture through the lenses of politics, psychology, humor, and more, artists have been helping to enrich the conversation about the field.
I'll have to write a future post about one of my favorite artists who explored architecture, Gordon Matta-Clark.

Here are two interesting headlines via Archinect:

The amazing crayon art of Christian Faur [Telegraph]

Frank Gehry considers an accomplished past and uncertain future [LA Times]

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Review: Peeps and The Last Days

I don't think that I've given proper praise to a man who has become one of my favorite writers in the last year, Scott Westerfeld. Westerfeld writes young adult science fiction novels and is best known for the Uglies series (Uglies, Pretties, Specials and Extras), which is how I first heard of him. Since then, I've gone on to read just about everything else he's written that our public library owns (once again, yay for libraries!). I've liked almost everything so far but there are a few that I think readers other than teens might enjoy, so I will be featuring them here. To start, I present Peeps and its sequel The Last Days.

Peeps is about a young man who has become infected with a disease that causes its victims to become violent, light sensitive, strong and craving raw meat. Sure, you can call it vampirism, but it's not quite what you think of from Bram Stoker and the movies. Cal's one of the lucky few who isn't debilitated by his infection, he has been recruited by the Night Watch, a secret supernatural police force that has been keeping underground New York City under control for hundreds of years.

Interspersed with Cal's adventures, we get snippets of information about parasitology - the study of parasites and their effects. I know that sounds weird, but I loved how it grounded this dark fantasy in the real world. Truth is stranger than fiction and all that.

While The Last Days is a sequel to Peeps, it does not quite pick up where the last one left off. Instead, we meet a new crew of characters, all of whom are struggling to make sense with how their city is changing. Music is what brings these characters together, not the struggle (set up in the first book and continued here), but they are drawn in none the less.

As is frequently the case, I didn't enjoy the sequel quite as much as the first book. There were more characters to focus on, so I feel like I didn't get to know each of them as well. That said, the plot and pacing are great and the ending is really satisfying.

Peeps and The Last Days are enjoyable books -- I recommend them both to teen and adult sci-fi/fantasy readers.

Buy Peeps on Amazon.
Buy The Last Days on Amazon.
Visit Scott Westerfeld online at Westerblog.