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24 April 2017
Evening Sedition

Building Buildings Like Blowing Bubbles

Outside View of Watercube

Outside View of Watercube

I was talking with a friend about how most modern architecture is basically self-indulgent crap designed to win awards but not be attractive or functional. (Bold statement, but never lead with a dead-fish punch.) You don't, after all, need to read a book by Tom Wolfe to know this is true, either. (Sturgeon's Law says that 90% of everything is crap, but Gehry, Johnson and the other frauds run at the 100% level. Unworkable, unliveable, unbuildable, and unattractive. Who needs that in a building?)

Anyway, I was asked to come up with some examples that weren't awful. One that came to mind was PTW's design for the 2008 Olympic swimming pool, called the "Watercube". True, this is only an artist's conception so it might be hopelessly flawed in practice, but it looks really interesting at the design stage.

Theoretical physicists know they are being taken seriously when someone builds an experiment to check their predictions. These experiments can be small, so-called table-top affairs, or they can be enormous enterprises involving miles of underground tunnels. However, construction engineers in Beijing are currently building a very different monument to theoretical physics - the National Swimming Centre for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The architects who designed the futuristic aquatic venue drew their inspiration from theoretical research into the structure of foams carried out by two physicists at Trinity College in Dublin.

Guardian Unlimited, UK

Outside View of Watercube

Inside View of Watercube

PTW's inspiration came from a refinement of Lord Kelvin's analysis of the best way to partition a space using equal-sized subdivisions. His solution was basically soap-bubbles since they have minimal surface area, and remained the optimal solution one until two mathematicans recently found a slightly better one.

This article provides a decent backgrounder for the layman on foams and honeycombs, for those of you who wonder about the peculiar lattice structures formed in your lattes or when you make salad dressing from oil and vinegar. (I can picture a movie where an older man calls a recent graduate aside and says, "Foams. That's the future: foams.")

So what attracted a group of architects hoping to design an Olympic sports venue to something that people might think is arcane physics research? "It is an ever-increasing issue for all architects to find inspiration and the basis for design solutions," says Kurt Wagner of PTW, "and often our imagination is just not enough."

Guardian Unlimited, UK

Catching A Great Wave… off Kanagawa

Hokusai's Great Wave off Kanagawa

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa
by Katsushika Hokusai

The Great Wave Off Kanagawa has always been among my favorite works by Hokusai. I first encountered it decades ago in a hybrid of analog and digital, moving from the original to a wireframe, which led me to the original piece. When I first learned of the recent Asian tsunami I was again reminded how earthquake-induced waves of water have been a problem throughout recorded history.

Many people don't realize that Hokusai was inspired by a huge tsunami — about fifteen feet (five meters) high — that ocurred on 26 January 1700 after a magnitude-nine earthquake in the Pacific Northwest (cascadia subduction zone). Hokusai wouldn't be born for another sixty years, but the event made quite an impression, no pun intended, on Japan.

The painter and woodcut maker Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) was born in Edo (Tokyo), Japan. He is famed for the literally tens of thousands, possibly as many as thirty thousand, wood-block prints, silkscreens, and paintings he made. His inspiration was typically drawn from the lives of ordinary people, from traditional mythology, and from the world he saw around him.

Hokusai is most famous for his series of prints, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (circa 1826-33) created when he was between sixty-six and seventy-seven years old.

From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about fifty, my pictures were frequently published; but until the age of seventy, nothing that I drew was worth of notice. At seventy-three years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, animals, insects and fish. Thus when I reach eighty years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at ninety to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at one hundred years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and ten, every dot and every line will be as though alive. Those of you who live long enough, bear witness that these words of mine prove not false.

Hokusai (as told by Gakyo Rojin Manji)

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