A unique architectural curiosity found only in the Italian city of Florence are tiny decorated openings on the outside walls of many sumptuous palaces. They are about the size of a cat door, but are located below the level of the waist. The openings are blocked by a wooden or iron door, and many doors have knockers.
For many centuries, a surreptitious trade of wine was conducted through these tiny windows. A customer looking to buy wine would knock on the door, whereupon the cellarman or porter appointed by the owner of the house would open the door from the inside. The customer would slip a few coins into the hands of the cellarman, and in return, he would hand the customer a flask of wine.
An architectural oddity found only in the US state of Vermont is the so-called “witch window”. These are normal portrait-style windows, but angled diagonally so that its long edge is parallel to the roof slope. They are installed in the upper stories in the gable-end wall of the house, and are usually found in old farmhouses.
According to the locals the windows were installed to prevent witches from flying into the house, because apparently witches can’t fly through an angled window, which might physically be true, but one might wonder why all the windows of the house aren’t angled. Surely, a witch would need only one vertical window to enter the house, and there are plenty of vertical windows to use. There is no reason why a witch would confine herself to only that particular window.
“Brixels” are software-controlled rotating bricks that transform walls into interactive displays. Created by design studio Breakfast, the Lego-like components are built to bring anything from walls to facades to life. Read more…
Off the coast of Chile, a group of about thirty islands belonging to the Chiloé Archipelago make up a fiercely independent community with its own distinct identity visible in the islanders’ folklore, mythology, cuisine and unique architecture. So proud the islanders are of their culture that they strongly protested when the government offered to connect the remote islands to the mainland with what would have been Latin America's longest bridge, fearing that tourism would forever erode the uniqueness of their community, and pollute their land and water.
But sometimes contact with the outside world is a good thing, as evident from the magnificent churches that stand on the archipelago's biggest island Chiloé. They are a fusion of European and indigenous architecture.
Atop a forested hill, some 300 meters above the city of Bologna, stands the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca, a 12th century Roman Catholic church. You can drive all the way up to the hill, but you can also walk through a specially constructed corridor. This covered monumental roofed arcade consists of 666 arches and stretches for 3.8 km making it the longest portico in the world.
Designed by Dutch architecture firm UNStudio and Melbourne-based Cox Architecture, the structure will sit on Melbourne’s Southbank Boulevard and is made up of two buildings clad with vertical gardens and geometric glass facades. Read more…
Manuel Jimenez Garcia and Gilles Retsin are literally setting the foundations for an architecture of the future. They are co-founders of the Design Computation Lab at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London, where they work with students to speculate how digitalization, automation and robotics are transforming our built environment. Read more…
I’ll admit that my first real impression of Chicago architecture was as a young Wilco fan, seeing Bertrand Goldberg’s Marina City rise, in somewhat sinister form, on the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I only saw the twin buildings in person for the first time last year, when I moved to Chicago. Up close, the corncob structures were bigger than I’d ever imagined, and I halted to survey their dizzying, petaled balconies. That’s the thing about concrete buildings: when executed with sculptural flair, their material, raw and tough, presents unparalleled, arresting drama.
Chicago is home to dozens of such unique, concrete beasts. For a new map published by Blue Crow Media, Chicago-based architect Iker Gil has selected over 50 examples of concrete and Brutalist buildings across the city and its suburbs to highlight. Many are famous, like Marina City, but there are also many that are lesser known, like the University of Chicago’s Henry Hinds Laboratory for Geophysical Sciences, whose fortress-like exterior also made me freeze when I first encountered it. The double-sided guide features a map as well as an inventory of the buildings, illustrated with photographs by Jason Woods. Woods’s images are formal, with the buildings captured in black and white but set against a blue sky — a pleasing visual twist.
Iker, who also serves as director of MAS Studio, provides a brief introduction to concrete architecture in Chicago — a city perhaps known more for its pioneering use of steel to construct the first modern skyscrapers. Works by Goldberg and Walter Netsch (of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, or SOM), he writes, were among the visionary architects who gave the city its first concrete marvels; included in the map are SOM’s hard-edged libraries for Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. Among more recent constructions is a private house by Tadao Ando — which appears foreboding from the street — and buildings by Studio Gang such as the SOS Children’s Villages Lavezzorio Community Center.
There are many other sites I had never seen or even heard of before, such as the Saint Mary of Nazareth Hospital, or the Kirsch Residence — a futuristic single-family home in Oak Park built in 1982. All together, they show how concrete in Chicago was used for a variety of practical-use buildings, from residential to administrative to university campus structures.
As Iker notes, the city has witnessed the demolition of several significant concrete buildings in recent years. One was Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, a spaceship-like behemoth that was destroyed five years ago. Marina City, on the other hand, is luckier, having had its future recently secured: in 2016, the city named it an official landmark.
The Concrete Chicago Map is the 12th local map Blue Crow Media has produced so far, following ones that celebrate the modernist architecture of cities including Paris, New York City, and Berlin. In the smartphone era, the idea of a paper map may seem a little backward, but the striking design of these maps would be difficult to replicate on a small screen to similar effect. Unfolded, they provide a unique, tactile way to explore overlooked, irreplaceable landmarks in our sprawling cities.