Offering hot yoga and skin care …with garbage on the side?

September 21, 2010 at 9:19 pm | In architecture, style, urbanism | 4 Comments

There’s a storefront about three blocks from my house that has been bugging me for a few years now, and tonight I’m calling it out. The frontage I’m talking about is actually at the back of the building, a narrow 2-story structure that stretches from a frontage on a main street to another (secondary) frontage on a quieter (but still mixed-use residential/ commercial) parallel street. The frontage on the main street is so-so. But the one on the quieter street is a disaster – and has been for a couple of years now.

The building used to house a restaurant. The restaurant closed and the building was subsequently bought and completely renovated to house a hot yoga studio. The main street frontage was supposed to have a spot for a juice bar, which never materialized and so it sits empty (it’s currently for lease). Consequently, the only thing that animates the main street facade is the entry to the yoga studio. As I said, the main street frontage is no great shakes.

But compared to the other frontage, it’s ok – if only because this other frontage is screamingly awful.

The second frontage on the quieter parallel street also has an entry to the yoga studio, as well as another retail space. For a while, that space was taken up by a doctor’s office, then it stood empty. It currently houses a skin care salon. It’s quite dead.

When the building was bought by the people who installed the yoga studio, they hired an architect to design the new “face” for the second frontage, and boy, did she or he blow it, in my opinion.

The architect didn’t take into account that the building needs a space for garbage bins – and consequently, there’s no place for them. Instead, the architect added lots of glazing to this back facade: two glass doors (one for the yoga studio, the other for the retail space), and three (!) windows, two of which are quite large and belong to the retail space.

I guess it all made sense in the abstract, but it sure doesn’t work for this building. The owners have nowhere to put their garbage bins except smack-dab in front of the windows and next to the two doors, and as a result this frontage has the worst feng shui I’ve ever seen.

Normally, I wouldn’t be superstitious, but there’s something downright uncanny about the sense of poverty and lack projected here. The retail space so far hasn’t thrived – it looks forlorn. The entry to the yoga studio looks unwelcoming: who would want their right side to graze the garbage bins on entering, symbolically carrying trash into their yoga practice? As for the retail space: I wouldn’t see a doctor who looks out on a garbage can, and I don’t think I’d want to visit a skin care salon under those conditions, either.

If this were my building and my business, I’d spend the money to take out that window on the far right. I’d install some clerestory windows instead, but I’d make sure that wall is a solid wall for about the first 4 or 5 feet, high enough to store the garbage bins so they’re nowhere near a window. I’d get rid of that useless ugly rock bed, which just screams “dead & sterile!” to the universe and every passer-by. Instead, in that spot I’d build an enclosure for the bins (to hide them), and I’d put a potted tree (or bamboo) right by the drainage pipe – a symbolic uptake (by the plant) of the abundant water that flows down from the roof. Bingo, feng shui fix! Cost? I don’t know – what does it cost to take out a window, replace it with a wall with some clerestory windows on top, and build a “house” for the garbage bins to keep them away from your good house of health and abundance? Whatever it costs, I’m sure it would pay off in the end. Somehow, the way things stand right now, you get the sense everything’s languishing. Those garbage bins are just plain repellent.

Here are two not-so-great pictures I took earlier today. There was a car parked right in front, so my photos don’t show the whole building. But you can see how the garbage bins destroy the facade, and how sad it’s all looking – the paint job was never finished (it has been a couple of years) and the building gets its share of graffiti, too.

This could be so much better…



August 19, 2010 at 10:06 pm | In advertising, arts, authenticity, brutalism, fashionable_life, ideas, media, style | 1 Comment

Night thoughts about exigency (something I have no time for).

Exigency: An urgent situation …a situation requiring extreme effort or attention. Exigence: demand.

Think child-rearing, perhaps? Think about having hardly any time for yourself, as you prepare yourself to be on constant alert, inbetween the moments that punctuate perpetual vigilance with pure delight? Is it addictive, to live like that? As Perma-Mom or Perma-Dad?

Which brings me to disaster. Why is the idea of disaster so seductive? Is it because it’s over quickly – unlike real life…?

Toward the end of July, NPR’s film critic, Bob Mondello, had an excellent segment, Disasters In Reel Life: It’s About Time (And Suspense). He referred to the “realistic” popular cataclysms dished up by Hollywood, and wondered, “So how come when a real disaster strikes, it feels so different?” One obvious answer is time: in the movies, disaster is fleet of foot (or whatever it is that disasters have, if not exactly feet – legs, maybe?). In real life, on the other hand, there is no suspense to disaster. It’s a drag, not a wild ride.

Then there are the other banal and painful differences: “Disaster movies have characters; real disasters have casualties.” The fictional representations of disaster obey Aristotelian rules about build-ups to climactic events, while real-life disasters mix up that experience. And in disaster movies, you never have to deal with the clean-up…

This might speak to the infatuation with urban apocalypse: it’s a desire to hasten an “end with horror” (versus true – and impossible – reconciliation to the “horror without end”). Check out London After the Apocalypse on Flavorwire: a more nuanced, artistic vision of 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow…? Perhaps we’re to shrink from the oozing decrepitude of Norman Foster’s Gherkin, its normally plump erectitude punctured by what looks like a case of vegetal clap. Maybe we should be awed: when a mighty organ such as this is marred, then it surely is the end.

[An aside, possibly irrelevant: If I had ever met her, I would be able to hear my maternal grandmother’s voice say, Besser ein Ende mit Schrecken als ein Schrecken ohne Ende (“better an end with horror than a horror without end”), a sentiment I always found really alarming and frankly ideologically dangerous (and one my own mother embraced whenever she felt a) depressed or b) manic – like I said, a dangerous idea). But then I didn’t live (and die) my grandmother’s life.]

In this unholy mix of media manufactured fast-forwarding to The End, we see that ecological disaster also has a special role to play: As Bob Mondello put it, “If the Gulf oil spill were happening in a film, you’d see oil-covered polar bears within hours of the Deepwater Horizon’s demise.” Urban disasters are a long-standing trope that goes back to the early days of Industrialization: both the Romantics and Surrealists liked to imagine man-made forms overtaken once again by nature. There’s something satisfying about seeing chthonic nature assert itself against concrete and human-contrived geometries. It’s also nice to think that nature will win, whereby winning means making human squalor and folly seem irrelevant. Unfortunately, that scenario also means everything else human becomes irrelevant – and that’s not an idea I can endorse.

And so we come to fashion, which has to be one of the highest achievements of humanity. (I’m not being ironic, incidentally.) A recent approach (the oil spill shoot in Vogue Italia’s August 2010 issue by Kristen McMenamy, shot by Steven Meisel) has put the Gulf of Mexico/ Deepwater/ BP oil spill front and center in haute couture. But as wrote, regarding the August Vogue Italia photo spread featuring oil-slicked models on the Gulf:

As beautiful and provocative as they are, we can’t help but feel uneasy. Creating beauty and glamour out of tragedy seems quite fucked up to us, not to mention wasteful and hypocritical, seeing as thousands of dollars of luxury clothing was flown in, and then subsequently ruined for the shoot. Glamorizing this recent ecological and social disaster for the sake of “fashion” reduces the tragic event to nothing more than attention-grabbing newsstand fodder. But that’s just us. Do you think this is appropriate commentary, or just tasteless? (source)

Some of the images (very few) are beautiful – most are provocatively horrifying. They’re not easy to swallow, and you have to look long and hard (which is difficult, given the ugliness of the setting) to find the fashion (be sure to view the 11 images in the slideshow).

Horror without end – the models are posing in the thick of it. End with horror? Not practical. As long as humans are around, we’ll never be without fashion (and fashioning) – how could we be? It’s part of our art – we’ve been fashioning since we got kicked out of Eden. Perhaps the question is, if we can’t be without the horror (can’t stop it without ending), can we shake ourselves out of being used to it?

You know eco-consciousness is mainstream when…

February 7, 2008 at 10:25 am | In arts, creativity, green, just_so, style | Comments Off on You know eco-consciousness is mainstream when…

…it’s a major theme at Brazilian carnival.

Via PingMag – The Tokyo-based magazine about “Design and Making Things” comes this wonderful recap of Sao Paolo, Brazil’s just-ended carnival season. Season? According to Aroldo Cardoso Jr., who wrote the intro for PingMag‘s entry, planning and preparation for carnival starts in July. It’s more or less an 8-month obsession, sort of like pregnancy (minus one month).

Go read the entry, but here are some photos of costumes, as posted on PingMag, with eco-themes.

First up, wind turbines!

Next, Ethanol!

And Biodiesel!, which looks a lot like Ethanol, but that’s ok:

And finally, because other species are endangered and need a “voice,” there’s Coral Reefs!

Not TV

June 30, 2007 at 10:07 pm | In facebook, ideas, links, style | 1 Comment

For something a bit less predictable than TV, but pleasurable in an eye-candy sort of way, 3 links to visuals that might intrigue you:

For the designers, via Cool Hunting, there’s wind to light, an installation that “illustrates alternative energy sources in the form of a cloud of LEDs. Mini wind turbines power the lights (both are mounted on poles); as the wind moves through them, it creates a visual pattern.” There’s a Quicktime video of the installation here. It’s a prototype and beginning of an art form that could (should) be deployed more in our “urbanscapes.”

Via the Doc Searls weblog, a pointer to an “animation made by digital media artist Aaron Koblin, airplane traffic looks much like fireworks in the night sky. Using air-traffic data from the Federal Aviation Administration, categorized using criteria such as ‘types of aircraft,’ ‘location,’ and ‘altitude,’ Koblin shows the changing dynamics of air traffic over the United States and Canada over a 24-hour period.” (From Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge) Watch the video by clicking here. Great soundtrack, by the way.

Finally, via links via facebook via groups thereon, a link via Upgrade! Vancouver (found via facebook groups — cause Roland Tanglao joined, I think, and this showed up in my “feed”…), a link to a 2007 movie by Peter Horvath, Boulevard. Description: “In Boulevard we follow a striking woman, the passenger of a convertible car, driven by an unidentified driver through the city, passing its generic streets, billboards and motels, with an unknown destination.” It’s a bit slow getting started, and it remains “slow,” but there’s something about it that makes you want to keep watching. Just in case. Spoiler: nothing happens. But it’s interesting, all the same. 😉

(n.b.: for some reason, the Upgrade!Vancouver link won’t work, so here’s one for Upgrade!Berlin. Just use it as a jumping-off point: if you scroll down, you’ll see the links to all the other global Upgrade! locations. I hope. Those internets. Sometimes they can be persnicketty…)

Soul-Crushing Stalinesque Architecture? Memory Trip, New Hip, & Heritage

June 29, 2007 at 11:24 pm | In architecture, authenticity, berlin, cities, heritage, Stalin_style, style | 6 Comments

For anyone who was certain that all those super-ugly”commie blocks,” built in East Berlin during the height of the German Democratic Republic’s most intense enthrallment to Stalin, would get the chop after the Wall came down, here’s an explanation for why they’re staying: Warum “die Kultbauten am Alexanderplatz” nicht abgerissen werden. It’s a short (under 2 1/2 minutes) video by Maxim Leo, editor at the Berliner Zeitung. He observes that his generation (aged around 30 to late 30s) isn’t eager to tear those buildings down because they are part of his generation’s personal history. As he tells it, those buildings were there before his generation was even born (so he and his cohort feel no personal responsibility for them). But the point is that his generation grew up with them: the buildings were there when his generation was cutting its teeth. Since this is also a demographic that’s obsessive about preserving its youth and youthfulness, it wants to preserve these buildings: they remind Leo and his friends of when they were young, expansive, in control. They flock to the businesses — cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, hotels — in these buildings; they are their patrons.

In German; via

This reminds me of a recent symposium I attended here in Victoria. The topic was “Heritage and Tourism: Compatibility or Conflict?” During one Q&A session, the conversation veered dangerously toward validating only quite old buildings as heritage (here in Victoria — in North America, West of the East Coast — that typically means something from the mid- to late-19th century, maybe the early 20th century, too). But one younger woman spoke up to put forward the viewpoint of her husband, who had grown up in one of those oversized, soul-crushing “commie block” apartments. She pointed out that for him, those buildings represented his memories, his “heritage,” and that — therefore — it’s ridiculous to think of heritage as simply a museum piece, or a style that has been vetted & approved. It’s also be about lived-in things that are full of memories and experiences and stories.

Which is kind of what Maxim Leo is saying, I guess.

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