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Tuesday, 24 January 2006
Giving in to the iD: NIKE DUNKS
Topic: Miscellaneous
*This post is a tribute to Joe, who is king of the BAPESTA.*

I try to make the most of the wearable goods I purchase, using them well past their point of aesthetic and functional failure. So this winter, after once again patching up the pockets of my army coat from 9th grade, I gave in to the pressure of my girlfriend, mom, and secret inner feelings, and bought a nice warm parka that, according to Kei, will make people hesitant to "mess with me."

I recently noticed my sneakers deteriorating and decided to scout out a replacement that suited my style, palette, and active lifestyle. What it came to was Nike's iD website, which allows you to design your own pair of DUNKS. And that's just what I did.

So yesterday I received an anonymous box from a man in Vietnam. Inside was an intricate sliding velvet-lined Nike box with a velvet bag, and inside my customized creation. Good job Mr. Nguyen and co.! It's interesting that Nike allows this direct connection between consumer and producer--no official warehouse, distributer, processing office, etc. But a great smell.

Posted by thenovakids at 9:38 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:05 AM CDT
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Friday, 13 January 2006
Mars, Space Elevators, and Dust Devils
Topic: Science Fiction
Here at TAKOTRON we like to make good use of our vacations, seeing our friends, families, and allies, traveling, exploring, and watching movies. But no vacation feels complete without finally getting down and reading some of those things that have been put off for a while. In those terms, this winter break has been fairly productive. Just yesterday I finally finished Red Mars, the first book of Kim Stanley Robinson's Martian trilogy.

It's quite an epic, and I don't know when or if I will get to the other two volumes. But Red Mars was full of great ideas and observations on science, society, politics, and global economics. In 2026 an international group of scientists are sent to explore and colonize Mars from Earth, which is falling into deeper political turbulance as powerful transnational companies, the few wealthy nations more powerful than the corporations, and desperate heavily-populated countries struggle and rebel against one another. The utopian hope for a new start on Mars runs into immediate trouble (even before touchdown) as the scientists disagree on terraforming (engineering global climatic and ecological changes) the new planet and how to deal with the conflicting interests of the global organizations (UNOMA), national governments, and corporations supporting their work.

Factions develop and tension builds, especially with the construction of a space elevator, a one-day feasible method of space transport in which, rather than rocket powered shuttles and landers, travelers and goods are brought to and from a planet by a thin cable tethered between the surface and a weighted anchor (such as a captured asteroid) extended beyond geosynchronous orbit by centripetal force. In Red Mars the elevator boosts the import of an unskilled labor force that mines Mars' natural resources for export. The unregulated, unprotected, and overpopulated workforce ultimately revolts (with the aid of some of the original scientists), affecting the whole Martian population. Lying, backstabbing, murder, ecological terrorism (exploding underground aquifers, blowing up one of Mars' moons[!]), and the dramatic collapse of the elevator (the cable whips around the equator twice, decimating everything around it) all ensue. But that's humanity, wherever it goes! I am under the impression that the sequels are a bit more optimistic, but there's a lot to learn from science and society's worse moments.

Red Mars is full of well-researched, illustrative descriptions of Martian landscapes, but since the novel came out in 1993 a lot has been revealed about the planet's surface. Since 1997 NASA's probes and rovers have been sending back detailed images and data, much of which indicated a watery past.

Space Elevator
The Space Elevator Comes Closer to Reality
NASA: Audacious & Outrageous: Space Elevators
Space Elevator? Build it on the Moon First

Mars Missions
Martian Weather: Dust Devils
NASA: Demystifying Mars
Rover Images

Posted by thenovakids at 12:31 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:06 AM CDT
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Monday, 2 January 2006
Topic: Food
One of the highlights in quiet Commack, LI, NY was the presence of the Coney Island fast-food icon, Nathan's Famous, known for it's excellent hot dogs. The site, at 6137 Jericho Turnpike, used to be home to Chuck E. Cheese's, but changed over sometime in the late 80s to a large video arcade, The Emporium with a Nathan's attached. My sister and I had birthday parties there, where I mastered the arts of Rampage and Pit-Fighter. I frequented it through high school, and occasionally while home from college, and was sad to see it's recent closure and conversion to an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet.

However, my sister, through her cunning, discovered an arcade/Nathan's site in Farmingdale, and you know TAKOTRON made an effort to check it out while home for the holidays. It's called the "Fun Zone," which, based on appearance, seems an exaggeration. But once inside, beyond the games and shoddy rides, it felt great to have that Nathan's hot dog again. The New York hot dog is a different animal from its Chicago cousin. There are a few topping combinations, like peppers and onions, sauerkraut and ketchup, relish and mustard, etc. Chicagoans can be dogmatic about what gets involved, like ketchup being explicitly prohibited from a "Chicago Style" dog, or a bun being steamed but not toasted. Chicago is the historic king of meat processing, the American mecca of tubular meats, so its people are the experts. But there's also something nice about New York's more cosmopolitan interpretation, pairing the hot dog with papaya juice, or kraut, or grilling it, broiling it, boiling it in dirty water on a street corner--and it's all good.

Nathan's/The Fun Zone
229 Rte. 110
Farmingdale 11735
Phone: 631-847-0100

Other New York Hot Dog Specialists
Gray's Papaya
Papaya King
Katz's Deli

Posted by thenovakids at 1:59 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:06 AM CDT
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Saturday, 24 December 2005
Chicago Fantasy Land
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Chicago has its own little Disney within, serving up greasy food with its fiberglass sculptures. The intersection of Clark and Ontario is home to Hard Rock Cafe, the new flagship McDonalds, Rainforest Cafe, and Portillo's Hot Dogs.

The new Mac replaces the old Rock 'n' Roll McDonalds, which was filled with airbrushed murals and memorabilia. There is still an on-site (somewhere in the parking lot), stand-alone shrine to the original restaurant, but the new design is glass curtian walls and high-design, featuring a time-line in dioramas of Pop Culture (and Mac culture) relics through the ages. You can eat your burger in the comfort of designer furniture by Mies, Corbusier, and Saarinen while enjoying your favorite post-war decade's memorabilia and music. Chicago architect Helmut Jahn proposed a structure built around 100ft arches, but McDonalds decided to go with a more modest design by an in-house designer, Dan Wohlfeil.

I presume the Hard Rock and Rainforest Cafe are the same as they are about anywhere else--is this a weird new International Style, where giant fiberglass frogs and neon guitars can be transplanted into any context?

Portillo's, once a modest hot dog stand, is now a franchise empire, with spinoff Italian chain restaurants attached. They are still, however, a deserving favorite for standard Chicago fast food specialties like Italian beef, hot dogs, and Maxwell Street Polishes (left). Their downtown location, across the street from McDonalds and Hard Rock, is in a Tuscan/strip-mall(?) style, with a confusing semi-3-dimensional mural above the entrance. According to their , this location allegedly is built around a "20's, 30's, 40's Gangster" theme.

The new McDonalds is kitsch, a vernacular Disneyfication of high design and high tech (wire-braced glass curtain walls; tons of flat panel TVs), but it's comfortable, interesting, and admittedly fun inside. I feel that if these international chains are going to plop down tourist-attractive, consumerist sites in our cities, ones like the new Mac are infinitely better than the sloppy fiberglass cancer-sores like Rainforest Cafe, or the faked nostalgia of Portillo's. But that char-grilled polish was amazing.

More on Mac:
Lynn Becker, Chicago Reader, on the "Schlock Corridor"
animated walk-through the new site

Wednesday, 21 December 2005
Fugliest Building in Chicago's Loop?
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Today I walked all over downtown Chicago on a quest for perfect holiday gifts. I say "holiday" because my family and friends are of various religious backgrounds, and it's semantically appropriate to be sensitive to this. I can't believe people think of this as a "War on Christmas." Being inclusive is not a move of aggression or a method of belittling Christian faith, which supposedly preaches toleration and outreach. Are these upset people sick of having to put up a false front of toleration and political correctness, and are now just blowing up and insisting on explicitly exerting their hegemonic majority as openly and straightforward as they would like? Well, "Happy Holidays" motherfuckers.

So anyway, I was shopping downtown and found myself in front of this parking garage building that I've admired from time to time before. I was always under the impression that the word "fugly" was a contraction of "fucking ugly" ("f'ugly"?), but then I recently read somewhere that referred to it as meaning "fabulously ugly," which, while a more intriguing concept, is dubious, I think. Nevertheless, this building in the loop, a Self Park garage at 60 East Lake Street, fits both of those definitions. The tire-shaped canopies are goofy but maybe amusing in a campy way. I think, from my 1 semester of experience, that architects sometimes refer to this sort of shit, when they are trying to be positive, as "whimsical." Above the "whimsical" tire-canopies are gratings shaped like sideways pointed arches through which you can see a Coke machine.
The upper level is graced with 2 small porthole windows on either side of the facade. One of the portholes has managed to hold on to its bubbly plastic hemisphere over all these years since teal was a good idea. On the roof you may be able to discern a statue. If I had to guess, I would say it appears to be a man in a WWI aviator hat swinging a human femur. If anyone knows anything about this building, or has an opinion re: its fugliness, let me know.

Posted by thenovakids at 8:11 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:07 AM CDT
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Friday, 16 December 2005
Washington Park
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
TAKOTRONsemester001 officially ended yesterday as I handed in my paper, "Frederick Law Olmsted and the Democratization of Landscape Theory," at 12:06PM. For the topic I researched the famous American landscape architect in relation to 2 major theoretical movements that directly influenced him, the English Picturesque of the mid to late 18th century, and American transcendentalism of the mid 19th. Both movements were rooted in our experience of rural landscapes, but had elements somewhat contrary to democracy. The Picturesque was put forth by wealthy British gentlemen who created contrived "natural" landscapes for their enormous country estates. Transcendentalism had a strong moral, even theological undertone that enveloped its aesthetic ideas, but it was too introverted and rural to be directly applicable to the urban industrial life that would grow to dominate American society.

Frederick Law Olmsted (right), who was an established social activist before he began designing landscapes, was able to adapt his influences to create a plethora of urban park systems that would serve the surrounding communities democratically. He made it a point to avoid loud details like flower beds, fountains, and symmetrical open squares, instead developing experiential, all-encompassing scenes that would have an "unconscious influence" on visitors. His hope was, and he succeeded, to introduce into our cities "scenery offering the most agreeable contrasts to that of the rest of town; an opportunity for the people to come together for the single purpose of enjoyment, unembarrassed by the limitations with which they are surrounded at home or in the pursuit of their daily avocations."

Olmsted's first design was New York's Central Park, planned with architect Calvert Vaux beginning in 1858, and he would go on to design many of the nation's campuses and most treasured parks, among them Brooklyn's Prospect Park, Boston's Jamaica, Fenway, and Franklin Parks, Niagara and Yosemite national parks, and Chicago's southern park system. The last was planned in the 1870s, and would be modified as the site of 1893's World's Columbian Exhibition. The fairgrounds comprised Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance (where the first Ferris Wheel was featured), which extended West to Washington Park.

So I had turned in this paper and was on my way home when i decided to take the long route and walk through Washington Park. The Green Line drops you off on Garfield Boulevard across the street from the oldest existing original "L" station, from 1892 (left). The area has changed completely since the late 19th century, and the idealistic hope that went into it is difficult to discern. In the 19teens and 20s the neighborhood bordering Washington Park to the west rapidly shifted to African-American and, unfortunately, many of the previous settlers dispersed. Today it remains almost completely African-American (>98%) and is one of Chicago's more impoverished regions, with a median income barely over $15,000 with almost half of its buildings vacant. The area east of Washington Park, called Hyde Park, is a diverse and well-reputed neighborhood, partly because it is home to the University of Chicago. During the surrounding area's demographic changeover, the University made active moves to prevent blacks from settling near Washington Park, and may today be somewhat responsible for the park's function as a sort of buffer zone separating the haves from the have-nots. It is still a beautiful escape from city life, featuring a (frozen) lagoon, a variety of trees, wildlife, bridges, and paths, and is treasured by many different people, including students, locals, school groups, nature-watchers, and even cricket players.

Posted by thenovakids at 4:25 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:10 AM CDT
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Saturday, 10 December 2005
Topic: Food / Chicago
A week of finals remains, but my studio class has officially ended as of yesterday afternoon. It went out with an exhausting bang of sleep-deprivation, lots of coffee, and harsh critics. One evening while preparing my project, at the suggestion of Miss Hotoda, we bypassed my apartment's sink full of increasingly stank dirty dishes and went around the corner to grab some food.

Our target was Morry's Deli at 5500 S Cornell (Chicago, IL, for those who don't know), where a plastic sign outside has been advertising a 1.99 hot dog and fries special for the last couple weeks.

Now, you might think a place called "Morry's" with adds for Kosher beef and a menu full of pastrami would be a nice little kosher deli. But I've never seen any one Morry-looking around there, and they have cheeseburgers. The guys working there seem to be exclusively young Hispanic men with tattooed necks.
So we got our specials, and they were quite satisfying. They didn't ask what we wanted on them, and the default seemed to be everything, which my ketchup-purist companion doesn't dig, so we had to ask the guy to remake it, which pissed him off. I was happy with everything, AKA chicago style, and I'm not talking about paper layouts and your works cited page, but rather: a steamed poppy seed bun, mustard, relish, chopped onions, a kosher dill pickle spear, sliced tomato, sport peppers, and celery salt. The little tube of meat within all that was pretty good at Morry's--a beefier flavor than the standard Vienna Beef issue, so I surmise it was a kosher dog.

The next day, parked outside, was this awesomely decorated delivery truck.

Posted by thenovakids at 4:07 PM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:13 AM CDT
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Friday, 25 November 2005
Topic: Food / Chicago
Behind my apartment there have been a number of wildlife sightings around the garbage. In the past year I've seen the usual--crows, rats, an occasional vagrant, and a hissing raccoon. The other day there was a squirrel, notable because it had found a puffy cheeto. The crunchy ones are better.

Posted by thenovakids at 2:34 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:14 AM CDT
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Wednesday, 23 November 2005

All day yesterday my class set up an installation of 180 1-foot cubes that we built for our course Visual Training. The cubes, an invention of our professor, Ben Nicholson, are faced with a kufic pattern that can be arranged to create a number of varying patterns--spirals, bands, Classical meanders, words, etc. It opened last night as part of an exhibit at the Durand Art Institute at Lake Forsest College.

In other news, I consumed an amazing inventory of fast foods throughout the day and night. It started with a mediocre cheeseburger from IIT's cafeteria. Then on our way up to Lake Forest we stopped at a mediocre fast food take-out place in Bronzeville, where I satiated my week-long craving for a hot dog (came with mediocre fries and an RC). In the evening they ordered pizza for us after we set up the gallery, from Papa Romeos. I've never had it before but it was pretty good. I am, however, getting sick of how they cut pizza all fucked up into squares here. It belittles the circular geometry of the pie. WEDGES, PEOPLE. Then I ended up going out with miss Kei and her friends Joe and Nar, and drinking quite a bit. At 3:15, in the AM, we were on our way to Golden Nugget or IHOP or something, but noticed that the Wiener's Circle was still open, so we went in, because as any local will tell you, they have about the best hot dog in Chicago. Also, their employees verbally abuse the customers in a sort of calculated entertaining way that's also heartfelt. Last night they were saying they were closing, so we better tip good. I got a hot dog with everything, and then tipped good, and they threw in cheese fries. Amazing.

Occasionally I go on a binge of this sort of diet, which I describe as eating like an 8-year old living on his own. Kei finds that demeaning, defending the natural course she would follow (and that Joe follows) if left to her own devices. I could be a vegetarian if there weren't so many incredible ways to process meat.

Posted by thenovakids at 3:41 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005 4:28 PM CST
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Friday, 4 November 2005
Topic: Food
Since thenovakids are all working hard fulltime learning how to build future cities, we've neglected our TAKOTRON NEWS page among many other of the often-overlooked pleasantries of our everyday lives, including decent meals.

We will take this brief but precious opportunity to continue our discussion of food. Specifically, a Japanese dish little known stateside, but quite common in its native land: omuraisu (オムライス) is one of those Western dishes that's been reinterpreted beyond recognition. Dishes like this, are apparently called "Youshoku" (洋食)", which just means Western food. Omuraisu is a contraction for "omelette rice," which is pretty much what it is, except for its magic ingredient, KETCHUP. So first you fry up white rice with chopped onion, ham, bits of carrot, and ketchup. You then wrap it in a thin (1 egg) omelette, and dribble ketchup over that. Pretty simple, though there is a definite art to the process. They make rubber molds you stick the omelette in and then jam with rice to shape the thing. Once in Kyoto (on the restaurant level of the big Kyoto station there is a whole omuraisu restaurant) I saw some chefs add the rice to the pan with the egg and do a little flip and form the shape perfectly. And then some people just drape the omelette lazily over the rice. Beauty in Variety

Last weekend some omuraisu was produced (right) and consumed.

Posted by thenovakids at 2:24 AM CST
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:18 AM CDT
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Monday, 17 October 2005
Topic: Food
Chicago has a bunch of nice restaurants, and all sorts of different foods. But where Chicago cuisine really shines is with junk food--Hot Dogs, Italian Beef, deep dish pizza, fried chicken, ribs, etc etc. Dishing out this greasy cornucopia are legendary joints, stands, and restaurants, like Al's Italian Beef, The Wiener's Circle, Portillo's, Giordano's, and Harold's Chicken Shack. A tier below these local staples are the national chains, which may or may not be familiar to you depending on your locale. If there is an expert navigating the world of fast food chains, it is Joe.

Joe paid a visit to TAKOTRON HQ this past weekend, and we checked out the scene. Our neighborhood here has some unique offerings not normally available to Northsiders.

First, is Checkers, which has an amazing Flash Site, and even more amazing fries. Their other food is pretty standard. I guess they are a southern chain, and according to Joe, who has watched this beloved empire crumble before him, the one on 55th by the Dan Ryan Expressway is the last remaining in the area. This also provides another incentive to come all the way down here. Drive-Thru open till 12.

Next to Checkers, though difficult to see, is a Popeye's at 5401 S wentworth. The reason it is difficult to see stems from it's dimensions. It's about 15 x 25 ft, drive through only. They have wonderful Apple Pies. Similar to McDonald's in format, but 10x superior in quality. And they approach their pseudo-Cajun image conscientiously: POPEYES? CHICKEN & BISCUITS LAUNCHES NATIONAL IN-RESTAURANT DONATION PROGRAM TO SUPPORT HURRICANE KATRINA RELIEF .

The parking lot complex featured a man walking around selling "long socks," aka big white tube socks, at 11 pm. A hard sell.

Monday, 3 October 2005
Lethally Enforcing Chicago
Topic: Video Games

The Takotron street team recently reinvestigated Lethal Enforcers, the classic arcade shooter, after coming across it in the dungeons of Castle Broadview.

It's still pretty fun, after 13 years, but the graphics aren't any better than those for Pit-fighter, which came out 2 years prior (1990). And remember those pesky innocent bystanders, who pop up and yell "NO!" in the middle of your intense gun battle, and then duck back behind their cubicle? But that's all just getting reacquainted with it. The new discovery, infinitely more relevant personally now than in 1992, is that it takes place in Chicago, sort of.

In the shot of the overhead banner you can see the Chicago skyline beyond the plain-clothes "lethal enforcers." Interestingly, it's a shot from the lake, so maybe they're on a barge or water pumping station or in Gary or something. Also of note: the well-groomed hand clutching the pistol; is the female officer an attempt at gender equality, or a marketing strategy--i.e., this is a potentially good date game, family fun, etc.

Posted by thenovakids at 9:11 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:18 AM CDT
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Monday, 12 September 2005
SW Loop
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
TAKOTRON Operation MArch commenced almost 3 weeks ago, accompanied by the inevitable stagnation of TAKOTRON news. But, however it might stagnate, TAKOTRON news will never fall. So here are a few pictures from the weekend. Keipopnation and I wandered around, south and then west of the loop, which can be empty, haunting, surreal, decrepit, beautiful, depressing.

(1.) The south branch of the Chicago River flows between River City, Bertrand Goldberg's (of Marina City aka Corn Cob towers fame) Utopian apartment complex from the 80s, and an old Deco style power station.

(2.) Torn pornography leads to Union Station

(3.) The new SHURE (microphones/audio) headquarters in Niles, by Krueck + Sexton

More info:

Chicago Architects Oral History Project: Goldberg


Posted by thenovakids at 9:37 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:20 AM CDT
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Wednesday, 24 August 2005
Robert Moses
Topic: New York / Commack
A couple weeks ago Takotron made the long return to Long Island to visit family and friends. One positive feature of HQ LI, only applicable in the summertime, is it's proximity to the beaches. To the North is the Long Island Sound and Sunken Meadow State Park, and to the South the equally poetically- named Fire Island.

Long Island is a heap of refuse that Ice Age glaciers left at the end of their descent. Over the thousands of years since, barrier islands formed off the south shore, among them Fire Island. There are a number of geological explanations for the common presence of such islands in coastal regions. In general, they separate a main land from the ocean, with a marsh or lagoon area in between (right). Here's a summary of existing theories for their formation by some Army geologists: PDF

Long Island's barrier islands remained disconnected and remote until the 1920s and 30s, when Parks Commissioner and master builder Robert Moses began executing his dramatic developments across Long Island and New York City. The creation of the south shore beaches is undeniably successful--he built coastal highways and bridges to make Fire Island and, to the West, Jones beach, accessible to the public. But before reporting on our Robert Moses State Park beach paradisiacal romp, let us say a few things about the controversial mastermind.

Robert Moses (left) was born in NYC, to an upper-class Jewish family, and received university degrees from Yale, Oxford, and Columbia. In the 20s he became an unnofficial advisor to Governor Alfred Smith, and later held the official position of Parks Commissioner, remaining in power through the 60s. During his reign he forever changed the shape of NYC and LI. Among the numerous NY civil accomplishments he is responsible for are the Throgs Neck, Whitestone, and Verrazano bridges; the Cross Bronx, Brooklyn-Queens, and notorious Long Island Expressways; the Belt, Northern State, and Southern State Parkways; the Lincoln Tunnel; Shea Stadium; the UN campus; and 2 World's Fairs.

Despite his immense power and influence, occasionaly his projects met their demise. One of the more fantastic proposals he drafted was the Mid-Manhattan Expressway, a 6-lane highway across Manhattan, elevated 10 stories over street level. Linking LI and NJ, it meant to connect the Queens-Midtown tunnel to the East and the Lincoln tunnel on the Jersey side. Space could be developed around and above it, with buildings accessed via elevators rising through the expressway's meridian.

By the end of his career Moses was considered by the public with mixed emotions, if not outright hostility. Undeniably, through his volition, diplomacy, and strength he was able to connect the region with his expansive network of highways, as well as build a number of beloved public parks. What he failed to do, however, was accomodate the middle and especially lower classes, whom he almost openly despised. His policies purposefully excluded mass transit, which became his perpetual nemesis.
The LIE's overpasses were consciously built at a height that prohibited public buses; The Northern State was zoned to cut through middle class property while winding around that of the rich (from whom he received questionable funds); The Cross-Bronx tore through poor neighborhoods, displacing 1530 families and isolating the South Bronx.

Moses was also responsible in part for the massive suburban sprawl of the 50s. Proposed as vacation routes for Manhattanites, the major highways to Long Island immediately became commuter routes enabling families to move further East. The LIE was developed without a called-for accompanying rail line down the meridian, enabling communities to develop outward on an automotive rather than more concentrated pedestrian scale (right). As highway traffic jams became a daily nuisance, Long Island Rail Road use was nearly halved.

But growing up my family had some great times at Robert Moses State Park, just about due south of Takotron HQ LI. Earlier this month Agent Hotoda, RADM Townes-Anderson, and I made a special trip down there, and had a wonderful time frollicking in the sand and waves, getting knocked around by the violent, sublime, infinite Atlantic ocean (left). It was overcast and cooler that day, which held back the masses, giving us free reign over the beach (right). Notice the Robert Moses water tower in the background. The tower is a monumental marker, visible on the horizon from the Robert Moses Causway that leads to the park. At its base a traffic circle
winds around it, memorializing the car-culture Moses helped create.

More on Robert Moses:

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
Mid-Manhattan Expressway on
Robert Moses, The Master Builder on
Robert Moses State Park

Posted by thenovakids at 2:10 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:22 AM CDT
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Tuesday, 2 August 2005
Topic: Architecture / Travel
Topic 3: Aoyama Apartments / Tod's Omotesando / Yoku Moku

We continue with another installment of our architecture/food theme.

It begins with the Doujunkai apartments. The great Kantou earthquake in 1923 left the region in ruins, but also opened up a unique opportunity for the nation to push forward their ongoing process of modernization. A variety of European-influenced building styles were being employed since the Meiji restoration, and the results often look like strained attempts at old Europe--heavy masonry, sometimes with a Japanese-style roof plopped on top, or with some traditional detailing. On the other side of the design spectrum emerged the Doujunkai, a design division for the government's Public Housing department. The Doujunkai foundation was responsible for building a number of mid-rise, reinforced concrete, Modernist apartment buildings throughout the 20s, among them the famous Aoyama Apartments on Ometesando near Harajuku, completed in 1927 (see my photo from 2002, right). At the time the Doujunkai apartments were state-of-the-art, fitted with trash chutes, electricity, modern plumbing, and toilets. They were also adaptable for a variety of middle-class tenants, and sometimes contained tatami rooms, sunrooms, communal courtyards, and even public cafes and restaurants.

By the 1990s demolition of the numerous Doujunkai complexes began amid much protest, and today only 2 remain. The Aoyama Apartments were destroyed about 2 years ago. In their place "Ometesando Hills," an apartment/retail comlex designed by world-famous architect Ando Tadao, is in the midst of construction. It is exciting that Ando has been granted this opportunity, and I'm sure the completed project will be as thoughtful and elegant as his previous work.
From what one can see so far, it looks as thought the new design makes a conscious effort to memorialize the buildings it displaced, with it's similar proportions and the preservation of the zelkova trees. 75 years is a long time for a building to last in Tokyo, no matter how beloved it becomes, but we can hope that the style and functionality of the Doujunkai apartments will be remembered historically and remain influential.

Here's a link to some multimedia:NTV Documentary

Item 2 on the agenda is Ito Toyo's building for Tod's Omotesando, an upscale Italian shoe company (left). Before we departed I discussed visiting it a mission. Consider that mission accomplished [report to base: Takotron mis012667 code 034 affirmative]. When you walk down Omotesando away from Harajuku and past Aoyamadori, you will come across a district of upscale boutiques and classy brand shops with things you can't afford. But often the retail spaces are designed by high-profile architects and are of notable quality. Herzog & DeMeuron designed the Prada store, Ando built Collezione which houses a number of small showrooms, there's a new Dior store(right) with a big star on top by SANAA (Sejima Kazuyo and Nishizawa Ryue), and now Ito has the Tod's. The structure is based on the abstracted sillhoute of a tree-line, folded several times to create an L-shaped floor plan. The tree branches are cast in concrete, and the 270 openings between them paneled with glass or, in some places, opaque aluminum. The facades are structurally striking, and the irregular polygonal spaces continue throughout the interior, which also contains furnishings by Zaha Hadid. That said, some of the interior details were a little if-y; seams that weren't quite matched up on some pexiglass light panels, some cracks in the concrete over the stairs, a rough corner, etc. All forgivable, but paired with the no-longer-working Tower of Winds outside Yokohama station's west exit, I'm still waiting for realized, long-lasting perfection.

About that tower, (see Takotron News 22 June 2005) we asked at the koban (police box) right in front of it if it still lights up. The officer there said it glows blue at night around 10 or so once in a while. He said he had trained to become an architect before he began his cop career, and was a friendly guy considering we were bugging him about something sort of irrelevant to police duties. Though people always ask them for directions and use them as a lost and found, so I guess it wasn't bad. But we checked that Tower of Winds a million times at all times of the day and night, and it didn't do a damn thing.

Past Tod's is the Yoku Moku Confectionary Headquarters, featuring a fancy dessert cafe, home of the ¥1000 coffee. We went there with Miss Jenny Wu and Brian and ate exquisite cakes. Mine had genuine gold flakes on it (Tranche Champenoise). Then we bought some more Yoku Moku cookies in the store, and Kei got a couple little tarts. Their Double Chocolate au Lait sandwich cookies are incredible, and possibly even more addictive than the $1 variety pack of sugar wafers. In the US you might find them at Neiman Marcus. YOKU MOKU HQ DREAMLAND EAT THESE COOKIES

Posted by thenovakids at 8:03 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:20 AM CDT
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