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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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Monday, 1 August 2005
Topic: Architecture / Travel
Topic 2: Kisho Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule Tower / IMAHAN SUKIYAKI

When thenovakids first began to emerge in 2002 during a semester abroad at Jouchi Daigaku, we went building-seeking on many occasions. At the top of our list was Kisho Kurokawa's Capsule Tower in Ginza, Tokyo, but we lacked the background information, navigation skills, and discipline to find it. For just a second I thought Tange's ugly brown Shizuoka Broadcasting Headquarters might be it--it's modular I guess (right). But this time, EPISODE III, we were prepared, with KENCHIKU MAP TOKYO, among other things, to strike.

The Capsule Tower in Ginza was completed in 1972, and represents the pinnacle of realized Metabolist architecture (left). During the 60s and 70s Metabolism represented a movement in architectural design that advocated principles of modularity through the use of interchangable, mass-manufactured, replacable components. That is, a new type of building that could be modified indefinitely over time to suit the occupants' changing needs. As influential as the group's ideas were, much of it remained only theoretical (like the projects of England's sometimes similar Archigram group).

However, a suprising number of projects were actualized. These included a 1968 Discotheque Space Capsule in Roppongi and the Capsule House "K" in Karuizawa. Then the 1970 Osaka World Exposition provided a forum for such experiments, allowing Kurokawa to prove the relatively easy installation and disassembly of his system with the Takara Beautillion, an expo installation for a furniture conglomerate. The Beautillion was made up of cubic units formed by steel pipes bent at right angles then bolted to steel plates. The pipes were fitted to plug into one another, and the completed capsules were joined to one another with high-tension bolts.

The Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza has two concrete shafts, bolted to which are 2.3m x 3.9m x 2.1m capsules made from modified shipping containers. The tower was originally intended to provide short-term housing for transient businessmen on trips to Tokyo.

More than 30 years later, it's still around. It could use a power-washing. There is a prototype capsule room on the ground floor. If you ask the surly security guard inside the building, he will coldly let you go in the prototype, which is fitted with a built-in rotary phone, air jets, and a TV/Audio system from the 70s with a reel-to-reel tape deck (right). It's those electronics that betray the building's age, not the overall form, which still approaches the science fictional. The mobile urban society the Metabolists were planning for didn't quite develop the way they imagined, and the Capsule Tower remains something of a monument to some foward-looking thinking that resonated with enough people that it materialized. Planning for a possible future that never panned out.

Our day in Ginza did not end with the Nakagin Tower, however. We wandered over to the fancy part of Ginza, which is like the 5th avenue of Tokyo. There we purchased several bags of the greatest green tea produced on this planet. I won't tell you all the secrets, but the place is called CHA GINZA. If you can find it you can get some. Otherwise, it's strictly for those with grandmotherly connections.

We had a few hours before dinner and Kei had to pick up some CDs so we went to Shibuya, got drinks at Fujiya, went to HMV, and took some purikura. Then we returned to Ginza for the fanciest meal of my life.

We wanted to try Sukiyaki, which is supposed to be pretty fine and very expensive. Kei's uncle recommended a place, IMAHAN. We had a private Cha-shitsu style room, into which a young woman came and cooked for us. There's a boiling broth in which she cooks various vegetables and then the thinly sliced, perfectly tender beef. You dip it all in raw beaten egg. The environment and the quality of the ingredients were incredible, and the service is traditional (and slavish). But Kei got our server to lighten up by exhibiting her purikura collection, and ultimately donating a picture to her.

Posted by thenovakids at 10:12 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:21 AM CDT
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Sunday, 31 July 2005
Topic: Architecture / Travel
We have returned from a month-long residence/experiment at our satellite base in Totsuka (Yokohama, 30min to Tokyo). We have collected an overabundance of information and ideas, and now must begin filtering our data in order to transmit it to our beloved audience.

Topic 1: Antonin Raymond/Fujiya/The Family Restaurant

Antonin Raymond was a Czech-born American architect who brought the International Style to Japan first with his own reinforced concrete house in Tokyo, completed in 1923. He arrived there in 1919, when he oversaw the construction of his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel. Wright's hotel remarkably withstood the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, which helped fuel the growing interest in Modern design.

Raymond was instrumental in helping the region rebuild after the destruction, and continued to work in Japan from 1923 until 1937, the year the FUJIYA FAMILY RESTAURANT building in the Isezaki-cho district of Yokohama was completed!!! Notice the International Style glass brick and reinforced-concrete facade.

Inside is FUJIYA, famous for PEKO-chan, the Milky candies campaign girl (left, with Takotron campaign girl Kei-chan), and their delicious desserts. The stairwell is bathed in light from the glass bricks, which you can see amid all the manga promo from the internet/manga cafe on the second floor (right).

All throughout Japan exist family restaurants like Fujiya. Though none of the others make good candy, they're all pretty similar--SkyLark, Sunday's Sun, Jonathan's, and of course DENNY'S--that very same Denny's you find in little Midwestern towns, where teenagers hang out and smoke cigarettes. And yet it's quite different. All the Japanese family restaurants serve standard Japanese interpretations of American food. These always include such favorites as Hanba-gu (Hamburg Steak--a tender, bunless burger with a ketchup-based meat sauce, served with rice) and Guratan (Gratin, usually seafood with macaroni in a white sauce, baked as a casserole), plus you can get beer and good desserts. But in only one location can you enjoy such things in an elegant, historically significant landmark of Modern architecture.

But here our story takes a troubling twist. Deep in the Utah desert the wartime Allied forces built the Dugway Proving Ground, a test site for new weaponry. Because of his experience with and knowledge of Japanese architecture, Raymond was commissioned to design a small replica Japanese village on which the military could test incendiary bombing techniques (they found that tatami, both imported and recreated from local grasses, and shoji burn real well). Similarly, nearby was a replica German urban working -class block designed by the Jewish-German architect Erich Mendelsohn. It is difficult to understand the position he must have found himself in, engineering the destruction of a place he seems to have loved.

After the war Raymond returned to Japan where he reestablished his office and would ultimately design more than 250 Modern homes and buildings in Japan, including such notable projects as the Fukui house in Atami (1933-5), the Rising Sun Petroleum Company's Yokohama offices (1926), The Reader's Digest Building in Tokyo (1947-9), and the Catholic Church in Shibata (1965).

Posted by thenovakids at 10:52 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:22 AM CDT
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Friday, 1 July 2005
Topic: Japan (misc)

TAKOTRON field trip: Hanshin Tigers at Yokohama Bay Stars
Yokohama Stadium, 1 July 2005

Baseball fans of all nations bow your heads in shame. You can sing "we will rock you" and "who let the dogs out" all you want. But you will never reach the level of fandom here. The Bay Stars won tonight 5-4 against the Hanshin Tigers. The Tigers are know for having the best fans. But you know we held it down tonight. Some high schoolers led the cheering, and brought out the flags and brass-band. With the energy of conbini beers and onigiri within, the rain was no matter, as the bay stars came back in the seventh after giving up the lead 2 innings prior. YATTA.

Posted by thenovakids at 8:39 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:23 AM CDT
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Wednesday, 22 June 2005
Kanto Tour '05
Topic: Architecture / Travel

The TAKOTRON field research team departs tomorrow for Narita international airport, to begin a month of extensive work/pleasure in Yokohama and Tokyo.

I love NY pizza and Chicago hot dogs, but Japan is the pinnacle of fast, efficient, wonderful food. We will also investigate some baseball, Kei's new baby cousin, and some buildings.

Last year we went to see Ito Toyo's Tower of Winds, built over an air vent outside the Yokohama station (upper right). It's supposed to light up in response to surrounding weather conditions and air patterns. Instead, it was just sitting there in the middle of traffic, gray and dead-looking. Maybe they revived it. This years target is Ito's new "Tod's" building on Omotesando in ritzy Aoyama, Tokyo. In that same area Ando Tadao's plans for a row of apartment houses is under construction. They will replace some iconic and well-liked apartments from the 50s, so it was a sensitive project. Down the street is the new Prada building, by the Swiss partners Herzog + DeMeuron. This was last year's novakids field trip highlight (lower right, with Kei and Yusuke). So you can hope for a field report within the next month. But no guarantees. More on Tod's Omotesando

Posted by thenovakids at 4:23 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:27 AM CDT
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Thursday, 9 June 2005

Topic: Architecture / Travel
The other day I got around to reading a long article on the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer that appeared in the May 15 New York Times Magazine (my mom takes care of her novakids, and sends me the good ones). Niemeyer, who is still working at 97, was the head architect for Brasilia, the capital planned by fellow Brazilian Lucio Costa, and the only realized Modernist utopian city.

Politically, Modernist architecture was a complicated mess. The ambition to execute new ideas through new forms and technologies led admirable architects seeking opportunities down some questionable roads. Philip Johnson helped organize an American Fascist Party and attended Hitler's rallies in Nuremberg. Le Corbusier joined the Vichy government and was a proponent of something like Technocracy throughout his career. Mies left Germany for Chicago at the onset of war, but made every effort to avoid politics on either side.

Niemeyer, on the other hand, was an avowed Communist during the most politically dangerous times. During the 60s the US government backed a coup that overthrew Brazil's government. Niemeyer's office and studio were destroyed, he faced arrest and interrogation, and spent more than a decade in exile. Brasilia failed, ultimately, as political change, overpopulation, and suburban ghettoization took hold, but it survives. The architect says,

You may not like Brasilia, but you can't say you have seen anything like it--you maybe saw something better, but not the same. I prefer Rio, even with the robberies. What can you do? It's the capitalist world. But people who live in Brasilia, to my suprise, don't want to leave it. Brasilia works. There are problems, but it works. And from my perspective, the ultimate task of the architect is to dream. Otherwise nothing happens.

Niemeyer's Modernism also attempts a sympathetic relationship to with the environment: "We absolutely need to look at the sky and feel how insignificant we are--the offspring of nature."

In other news, a remix of Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl" is getting play on Power 92.3, the Chicago hip-hop station ("#1 in the Streets"). I don't know what to think about that. But what thenovakids dig about 92.3 is that it promotes a more positive hip-hop culture than 107.5 and expecially Hot97 in NYC, where people are always getting in fights outside, shooting at eachother, or mocking Tsunami victims on air. But 92.3's djs promote discussions on serious issues affecting the community, like AIDS (black women account for 72% of new HIV/AIDS cases among women), poverty, inequality, single motherhood, etc. So, whether you're making buildings, creating cities, or playing music, remember you can do it conscientiously.

? 2005 TAKOTRON Department of Education, Propaganda Division

Posted by thenovakids at 8:12 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:30 AM CDT
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Saturday, 4 June 2005
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
Since our last entry, Architecture Day in Chicago has come and gone. It was a'ight. You know TAKOTRON was V.I.P., cuz we're the CORPORATE SPONSOR of bold expression everywhere. So first up was the groundbreaking ceremony for the Art Institute's new North wing, which should be pretty cool, if they get the funding they need--twice what they have to reach their goal, and everyone knows these things can end up costing a lot more than the original estimate. Renzo Piano designed it, and the plan is to have a bridge leading from Millenium Park to a new entrance with a sculpture terrace on the second or third floor of the new wing. Piano explained that the bridge will be "straight, like a knife," forming a dialogue with Frank Gehry's serpentine titanium-paneled bridge over Columbus drive on the park's east side. The new-ish President and Director of the Art Institute, James Cuno, started off the morning with an optimistic speech on Chicago and the Museum's relationship with one another, and their collective place in the world, or something close to that. From what I've seen, he's intelligent and well spoken and a nice guy. He was followed by an appropriate recitation of an excerpt from Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago (1909) and then inevitible speeches by the museum's Board of Trustees and the CEO of JPMORGANCHASEBANKONE, the real corporate sponsor. Yay, mergers. I thought banks were supposed to exhibit an image of stability and permanence. Why do they always merge and buy eachother out, then, and end up with dumb names like JPMORGANCHASE and AMALGAMATED and FIFTHTHIRD? Throughout the whole thing, which involved no actual ground-breaking, the Redmoon Theater had these Spring Nymph people with painted white faces wandering around on stilts with watering cans, sprinkling petals around with branches stuck on their heads. What's up with theater?

Mayor Daley was up next at the podium. His gestural presence was more important than his speech, thankfully, because he had a few slips, like "Renzio Piana," and "Rim Kole-us," which sent an audible shutter through the crowd, especially those in the architecture field (like Frank Gehry and Renzo himself). Then Piano took over and talked about his plan a little bit. He was humble, grateful, and focused, and even made a few funny little jokes, but maybe they seemed funnier or cute (in an old guy way) because if his accent.

Then in the evening, with a flash of the VIP badge, we got up close on the Pritzker presentation in the Pritzker Pavilion (left), designed by 1989 Pritzker Laureate Gehry, in Millenium Park. There were all these starchitects around, so i tried to be the architectural papparazzi, but sort of failed with my crappy old digital camera that kept focusing on peoples thinning hair in front of me. Anyway, I'm posting these images as thumbs, so you can click on them and get a closer look at the stars. How come architects and artists are never targeted for celebrity gossip? No Joan Rivers interviews, or E.T. exposes. This despite the efforts of Dali and later Warhol. It's not like Colin Farrell or Oprah are showing up in limousines filled with cauliflower.

Back to the presentation, it was ok, Daley was there and spoke again. Thom Mayne was a little emotional, and certainly grateful, and gave props to his whole Morphosis team, the wifey, the kids. It was generally pretty formal, of course. I spotted the suave Helmut Jahn arriving on the scene. Up on stage were the big guns, former winners and then the 2005 jury. Now I'm gonna explain who's in on the action in these photos here.

right:(l to r) Victoria Newhouse, architectural historian and author, founder and director of the Architectural History Foundation; Tom Pritzker; The Honorable Archduke Daley; Thom Mayne, at podium; woman in white, oops, forgot her naem; Frank Gehry; Ada Louise Huxtable, author and architecture critic of the Wall Street Journal; another person I forgot, but I think it's the architect Carlos Jimenez

left:(l to r) Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi, architect, sharp dresser, planner and professor of Architecture from Ahmeddabad, India; Rolf Fehlbaum, charman of the board of Vitra, Basil, Switzerland; Zaha Hadid, last year's Pritzker Laureate; Renzo Piano, 1998 Laureate; Thom Mayne; Victoria Newhouse; Mayor Daley, looking aloof

Not shown is Lord Palumbo of the UK (that's really his title), who gave a well-spoken, motivational and optimisitic speech at the beginning on the importance of architecture and it's most prestigious award.

Friday, 27 May 2005
Architecture Day in Chicago
Topic: Architecture / Chicago

8:30 AM
The Art Institute of Chicago
North Garden at Monroe and Michigan
111 S. Michigan
Groundbreaking Celebration for the Art Institute's New Building, Designed by Renzo Piano
Zero Gravity Exhibition

6:30 PM
Millenium Park
2005 Pritzker Architecture Prize Awards Cermony, to be Presented to Thom Mayne of Morphosis
more info
Morphosis Home

Posted by thenovakids at 12:01 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:32 AM CDT
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Tuesday, 24 May 2005
Cruisin' Down
Topic: New York / Commack
A recent paternal visitation to Takotron HQ was characterized by a number of unsolicited comments by strangers on the physical resemblance between father and son. It also marked a continuation of good intergenerational, enlightening conversations. A recurring topic was suburbanism (my origin, immediate family's locale) and urbanism.

Much can and has been said about the development of America's suburbs. A common theme is their underlying sinisterness. I'm not being sarcastic or ironic, and I'm not building off my past as a teenager, sick of the provincial conformity of my environment. Like I've said before, living away from LI has allowed me to even take up a peculiar pride in my suburban background. That said, everyone is familiar with some sort of hidden anger, violence, exclusivity beneath the thin, fragile crust of manicured lawns, good HS board scores, and houses. Whatever suspicions we all have are only confirmed as we look further into the situation.

Fundamentally, the suburbs are a product of decentralization, during which the concentrated populations of our cities dispersed themselves outward, away from the dangers and inconveniences (as well as diversity, culture, and tight communities) of urban life in favor of privacy, space, and personal control. But by the age of American suburban sprawl, urban 'dangers' were on a new, unfamiliar, and unfathomable scale. Not pickpockets and gang-violence, but total annihilation:

...the postwar planners argued that the only effective defense against an atomic attack was to rechannel urban development into a series of "linear" or "ribbon" cities that would, as one planner put it, "produce a dispersed pattern of small efficient cities more attuned to the needs of modern living, modern commerce, and modern industry and far less inviting as potential targets." ...U.S. News and World Report touted "fringe cities" as a counter to the bomb, noting that in New York City, where a million families would be added in the next several decades, "plans are already being made to guide the growth of these centers, so that they will conform with the needs of atomic defense." ...Horatio Bond, of the National Fire Protection Association, went so far as to suggest that "it will be proper for our military establishments to veto further concentrations of urban centers. No more skyscrapers. No more concentrated housing projects. If slums are cleared, leave them clear. Build new buildings in such a way as to keep down the concentration of people." -Tom Vanderbilt, Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America

However, by the time my teenage life in the suburbs peaked, these concerns were irrelevant. The rise and fall of nuclear culture in relation to suburban development and its implications are explored by writer Tom Vanderbilt (and contributor) in his book above.

It was my grandparents' generation who brought their families to the suburbs in an attempt to protect them from whatever global destruction would have begun with those first, anticipated, strategic nuclear assaults on our cities. I was 8 when the Berlin wall came down, marking an official end to the fading Cold War. But my suburban town could only continue building ontop of itself, regenerating its broken down strip malls into new ones adorned with fake stucco and more parking spots to be filled with SUVs, themselves an exaggerated extension of the Cold War paranoid desire for more privacy, more protection, and less outside contact. Not suprisingly, no one saw the historical transition as an opportunity to discard the layout of selfish individualism and paranoia--its results remained and its origins were long forgotten.

And yet, as overgrown, decentralized, private fortresses, the bitter irony is that in the suburbs lots of fucked-up dangerous, violent things still go on, just as they do in cities (and small towns, too). The difference is that cities are expected to contain these, but the people of the suburbs are repeatedly shocked each time it happens, lapsing into amnesiatic denial between incidents--"I never thought it would happen here, in our neighborhood, i moved here (to white America) because I thought I would be safe". As it turns out, a decentralized place like my hometown has its strip malls (and behind them our neighborhoods) built around the region's deadliest road, Jericho Turnpike, according to Newsday. Phil and I proposed a nickname to underplay the dramatic Biblical imagery of destruction ("Ol' Jerry"), but it never caught on. It's layout is designed to accomodate and necessitate the vehicle, (not the teenage pedestrian walking to Taco Bell), which it also endangers.

More danger can be found on the Commack Fire Department's interesting website, which has pages of photographs chronicling gory vehicular accidents, strip malls on fire, and suburban homes burning, their vinyl siding transformed into dripping, molten plasm. And then, last month a guy I knew in junior high and HS, not a good friend, but someone I saw at concerts in the city and talked to every now and then, was beaten to death in a fight outside a strip club, located at the convergence of two commercial highways in my town--all it is is these convergences of commercial highways.

It's easy to bash on the suburbs, and I bet I've been doing it since prepuberty. But the truth is Commack LI NY and other (supposedly) innocuous, typical whitebread suburbs are not such bad places to grow up. By definition they offer proximity to cities. Access is of course a problem, since getting there means you need money and a ride to the nearest station. But it's there. What makes a big difference is who raises you, who you know, and how hard you look for what you want. I was lucky to have a family that emphasized culture and exploration and made regular trips to NYC. At the same time, I grew up with kids that had never been to the city--cultural capital of the world and an hour away. It's also true that suburbs have their own regional particularities. Though there are plenty of similarities, my friends's towns in the Chicago suburbs are totally different from mine in terms of ethnicity and culture (I'm used to much larger representations of Italian and Jewish Americans. Both places are, horifically, plagued with racial segregation).

TAKOTRON loves the city life.

Posted by thenovakids at 9:01 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:38 AM CDT
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Tuesday, 17 May 2005
PARIS2999 femme bot nation
Topic: Architecture / Travel
THENOVAKIDS RETURN Our experimental research abroad in cheese, romance, and Le Corbusier has come to a close (at least for one of us), and we are happy to report success on all fronts. I love Chevre (goat) cheese, though Takotron Kommander Keichan is not as big a fan. But the best cheese EVA in the universe is "Motin Charentais Fromage au Lait de Vache." You can get these amazing cheeses for just ~2?, which is just a little more than 2 weak little US $s. Then you put it on your amazing 80? baguette, whose price is regulated by the government, and you are eating affordably, amazingly, and authentically in Paris. You can also survive off of crepes, paninis, incredible falafel (introduced by semi-professional, semi-famous Parisian/World explorer Jeff Mok, who we met up with a couple times), croque monsieurs, strong cafe, etc. But even though thenovakids and Takotron know how to live the high life on a tight budget, we also like some fine wining and dining once in a while, which France of course can also provide, in the form of STEAK FRITES!!, saumon, gelato, escargot, etc.

As for the romance, Paris is just that kind of city. Everything is on a human scale, but still bustling. It feels both contemporary and ancient, the Metro is incredibly efficient, but it also seems like you can walk anywhere. And with the right person, it really feels pretty good. Le Corbusier pics are being processed, so more on us and him later. KEIPOPNATION has a photo album page with tons of paris pics, including corbu(bu) ones, so you should check it out: KEIBOOGER'S PHOTO HOME PAGE

Paris has it's PARIS2012 campaign going in full effect. They have my vote. NYC, I love you, but you better STEP YO GAME UP! There's no way NY will get it, since they are proving to be too disorganized, fragmented, and bombastically overambitious to carry out two current grandes projets: the new WTC and a west side football stadium. Allow us to explain the phrase above borrowed from the French, which not one of those uneccesary foreign word insertions to make us look intellectual, like ouevre and wunderkammen. Although, those two words have specific, untranslatable meanings. Hmm. STEP YO FOREIGN LANGUAGE GAME UP, readers. Anyway, grandes projets is a term used for a number of major architectural undertakings commissioned by the national and Parisian governments, initially under former socialist president Francois Mitterand. Among them are I.M. Pei's Pyramids for the Louvre, The Centre Georges Pompidou (Piano + Rogers), La Grande Arche de la Defense (von Spreckelsen), and the Bibliotheque Nationale Francois Mitterand (Perrault).



Posted by thenovakids at 10:02 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:26 AM CDT
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Tuesday, 3 May 2005
Topic: Architecture / Chicago
So Trump, self-important asshole, fake-millionaire extraordinaire, is having built a bigass tower by the river here in Chicago. They're already clearing the site and maybe started digging for the foundation (left). It's gonna be yooge or whatever, a grand display of everyday nothingness. Included are "472 super-luxury condominiums from studios to three bedrooms and up to seven bedroom penthouses," and "90,450 square feet with exclusive boutique shopping and fine dining along the River." I am quoting from the official "brochure". You can see textually his affinity for superficial, cumbersome displays essentially void of meaning--"super-luxury," "exclusive," etc. The brochure is a goldmine of these claims.

So architecturally, it's going to be really huge. Adrian Smith of the firm Skidmore Owings and Merrill (Hancock Tower, Sears Tower) is the principal for the project, and it looks like the outcome is to be a fourth apex on our skyline (the third being Edward Durell Stone's Aon Center, originally called the Standard Oil Building). The site is right on the river in front of Herr Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe's IBM Building. According to my copy of the AIA Guide to Chicago (2nd ed.), "Mies last American building, and his largest, follows his familiar model. It is sited so as to avoid obstructing Marina City and to capture the lake views made possible by a jog in the river" (52). Isn't that nice, how it purposefully avoids blocking Bertrand Goldberg's famous "corncob" towers? I hope you don't expect Donald to maintain that sort of reverence. No, looking at that picture I took from his little website ("), it looks like he's going to break the chain of love, at least for about 2/3 of the IBM building. You suck, Trump.

Posted by thenovakids at 12:13 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:29 AM CDT
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Thursday, 28 April 2005
Topic: Video Games
Ongoing through Sept. 5, 2005 (I think) at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry is the travelling exhibit, Game On, a historical retrospective of video games.

It's a huge project with examples ranging from Space War and Pong, to X-Box or whatever the kids have today. The first room is basically a free video arcade of the past, with Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, Dig Dug, etc. Then it continues with home consoles, mini-systems, and some side attractions, like video game music, one of those nerdy all text-based role playing games, an interactive game for the blind, a section on Japan including Samurai Warriors where you can be Ieyasu Tokugawa and slaughter scores of lesser samurai, etc etc. Expect manic, unruly school groups, but if you get there early (they open at 9:30) and have a little patience (these brats are basically being rushed through there and have minimal attention spans) you can spend all day playing video games for $5. Plus the kids don't appreciate the time-killing endorphin-releasing magic of the first Beatmania (Master Joe knows), or Parappa the Rapper.

A couple complaints: the graphic design around the exhibit is pretty annoying, but I guess it's supposed to be for the kids (who probably don't really care). A lot of the exhibits at the Science and Industry have these overblown spectaclist installations that obscure the content. Lame. Also, I read that in Europe they had some more violent games like Mortal Kombat that they dropped for the Chicago presentation. In fact, no "M"-rated games. LAME!. Can't I just bust out the MK BLOOD CODE for Genesis: A-B-A-C-A-B-B? My right thumb will remember forever. I will take the BLOOD CODE to the grave.


Wednesday, 27 April 2005
Antoine Predock
Topic: Architecture / Travel
Today architect Antoine Predock gave a lecture at the Art Institute of Chicago organized by the museum's Architecture and Design Society. And TAKOTRON was there. The architect spoke mostly of his more recent projects, including two proposals that recently won their respective competitions: The National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan (below), and The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnepeg.

If you're not familiar with Predock's work, it would help to generally think of it as fitting nicely into Kenenth Frampton's outline of Critical Regionalism. Let's bust out that old book (The Anti-Aesthetic, ed. Hal Foster, 1983) for some good quotes from the classic "Towards a Critical Regionalism":
Architecture can only be sustained today as a critical practice if it assumes an arriere-garde position, that is to say, one which distances itself equally from the Enlightenment myth of progress and from a reactionary, unrealistic impulse to return to the architectonic forms of the preindustrial past. [...] The fundamental strategy of Critical Regionalism is to mediate the impact of universal civilization with elements derived indirectly from the peculiarities of a particular place. (22-3)

Much of Predock's work is in the Southwest U.S. (his firm's office is in Albequerque) where it makes use of local materials and imagery from the inspirational landscapes and their indigenous cultures. He succeeds in creating powerful and resonant spaces while avoiding the pitfalls Frampton warns against, namely "nostalgic historicism or the glibly decorative" and "the communicative or instrumental sign."

Predock's Shadow House in Santa Fe (above) is built to frame views of the nearby Jemez mountains as it resonates with the desert sun through the use of an edge-lit glass prism and courtyard enclosed by two walls that incorporate copper.

Predock accepts the Critical Regionalist label to a degree, but is careful not to be confined by it. He reponds to the idea, "yeah, but it's portable." The National Palace Museum in Taiwan indirectly references a plethora of cultural symbols and ideas, including the distant peak of "Jade Mountain," early scroll paintings depicting rivers and mountains, and lanterns, as well as borrowed "pan-asian" examples, especially for the surrounding gardens. It is approached from two opposite paths that bridge a surrounding canal. The paths are to remain open after hours, so that pedestrians can travel through the space without actually entering the building. The museum is to house some 650,000 treasures secretely salvaged from mainland China's Forbidden City by Chiang Kai-shek, in addition to contemporary artwork and performance spaces and increasing collections of pieces from other Asian countries.

At the end of the lecture the architect took some questions. I posed an architectural problem I had been thinking about for a while. So you know I represent Long Island, but not a setting of beachfronts overlooking the Sound or nice little towns where you can get good seafood and take the old boat out. I grew up between two commercial highways lined with gas stations and strip malls. There's no train station in my town, but from one a town over it's an hour ride to Manhattan. So my setting was nothing special, nothing too nice. I'm not ashamed, and when away for awhile I even find myself feeling just a little bit of home pride. This is all only slightly relevant, and I certainly didn't bring it up tonight. You can read more about my town on the Takotron images page. What I asked, was something like, "is there a way to build a project that resonates with its setting if the setting is a place that's quotidian and anonymous, like some of our overdeveloped suburbs?" Mr. Predock gave an informed, deep, helpful response (I must paraphrase):
In such a situation (and others as well) it helps to think on archaological time. When you look at a roadcut, you see the layers of different eras, and on the top is a thin section of candy bar wrappers and cans and things. So, on this scale it is possible to think of things like suburban developments as a temporary fluttering. Most of our country is now covered like this, but in a way it is only temporary. We live in a place built on genocide, but underneath are rich layers of different cultures and the real essence of the land. So sometimes, especially in a situation like that, you need to look beyond the scatterings on the surface, to somewhere deeper.


Posted by thenovakids at 10:06 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:32 AM CDT
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Monday, 25 April 2005
Clean Your Filthy Records!
Topic: Music
Today the takotron staff will teach you how to clean your records a.k.a. LPs in an easy and effective manner. Our motives remain confidential.

Here's what you will need:
70% Isopropyl Alcohol Solution
Distilled Water
Some string
A soft towel
A Bathtub
At least 1 Dirty Record
At least 1 hand

And here's what you do:
1. Take your string, and hang the record by it's filthy hole in you bathtub area. How you do this is your business. We have suction cups from the dollar store, but you can use your boy scout knots or whatever. Just do it.

2. Mix a 1:1 solution of your alcohol and distilled water in a bottle or something. Pour some onto your record while holding it horizontally (while still strung), if possible. If it's really old and crusty try to avoid getting it on the label, which isn't too hard because of the grooves. Take your soft towel and pass it along the grooves. Do it on the other side.

3. Rinse it with distilled water, wipe with towel, and let it hang there to dry.

That's it. So this gets rid of almost all the dust on there, and supposedly eliminates a lot of the static, as in static electricity. You might also want to clean the turntable mat with the alc/H20 solution, as well as the inside of the dust cover if you have one of those. The pictured Carnivore record still skips during the line "spread your legs, I'll seed your eggs," but otherwise it sounds like new. There are plenty of suitable products available for you to buy, if consumption makes you feel better about yourself. Our instructions above are a simplified version of a number of more serious sources, some of which are listed below:

Record Cleaning Maintenance

How-to: record cleaning devices and fluids

How to Clean a Vinyl Record: Tips from eHow Users

Posted by thenovakids at 12:22 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, 30 May 2006 12:32 AM CDT
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