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Ice Cube February 14, 2010

Posted by mmonla in Art and Design.
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I was in New York recently and noticed the new Apple store on Broadway and 67th. Crisp glass box and elegantly high ceilings – not a surprise to anyone who’s ever seen an Apple store before. But while I’ve always been a fan of Apple’s consistent marketing concepts, especially when it comes to their store designs, it begs us to question the relation of branding to architecture.

Given, architectural branding is nothing new. Back in the early 20th century, German architects pioneered the idea of uniting art and industry. Function, yes, but also form, and German industrialists seized on the opportunity to market the origin of the commodities they produced to their buyers. I’m thinking here of Peter Behrens’s AEG turbine hall and Gropius’s Fagus-Werk, which was in fact widely used as publicity. But this is different. Apple’s store design is entirely dictated by a set of aesthetic and spatial requirements. The architecture is Apple. Its design is reliant on the brand and cannot outlive it independently.

The architectural concerns here are not only aesthetic. Located on a prominent corner in New York’s dense Upper East Side, a huge single-purpose glass box isn’t exactly a very sustainable use of land in the days of sprawl and global warming. But I have a solution: a hovering mixed-use box that floats above all such Apple stores. I’ll get back to you on that last one once I refine my design.


It’s… Nobel Week! October 14, 2009

Posted by mmonla in Architecture, Politics.
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Congratulations to Elinor Ostrom for her Nobel Prize in economics. It’s refreshing to see a political theorist win the coveted prize and I’d like to see this trend continue. I personally disagree with the view that economics is somehow more “scientific” that political theory or sociology. By exclusively rewarding market theorists, we’ve been cementing the notion that economics is a stand-alone discipline that can successfully exist independently of a social and political context. In fact, this should have been a social sciences prize all along.

According to Robert Shiller, a Yale University economist, “this award is part of the merging of the social sciences. Economics has been too isolated and too stuck on the view that markets are efficient and self-regulating. It has derailed our thinking.”

As for Ms. Ostrom’s work:

Ms. Ostrom’s work deals in the concept of “commons” shared by a number of people who earn their living from a common resource and have a stake, therefore, in preserving it. Her most recent research has focused on relatively small forests in undeveloped countries. Groups of people share the right to harvest lumber from a particular forest, and so they have a stake in making sure the forest survives (NY Times).

I’m interested in seeing what implications her work may have on architecture. Privatization of land has always been used as a solution to the overexploitation of a common resource, otherwise known as the tragedy of the commons. In particular, I’m thinking of public space – the private shopping mall vs. the public street. Could our public spaces be designed and/or programmed in such a way as to encourage the kind of behaviour Ms. Ostrom is describing?

postcards from italy June 8, 2009

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“Pour moi, j’émets le vœu que la photographie, au lieu de tomber dans le domaine de l’industrie, du commerce, rentre dans celui de l’art.” – Gustave Le Gray

(I hope that photography, rather than falling into the realm of industry and commerce, enters the world of art.)

Musée d’Orsay is hosting an exhibition on the early days of photography in Italy. Admittedly, the name of the exhibit – “voir l’Italie et mourir” – sounds exceptionally cheesy to me but I’m sure there’s a smart reference in there I’m not getting…

Most of the art shown, but not exclusively, is that of early photographic mercenaries  drawn to Italy like countless other artists before them. The themes are recurrent (people, landscapes, archaeology…) and the exhibit is nicely organized around the main subjects.

Fundamentally, it doesn’t really matter what Italy may have looked like around then; the work doesn’t aim to convey an image of the landscape but rather a perception of it. Many of the compositions, lighting, choice of subject… are no less evocative than their painterly counterparts. Perhaps this is partly a consequence of the young art’s early influences.

carlo naya - venise

Carlo Naya – Venice

Gioacchino Altobelli - rome forum

Gioacchino Affobelli – Rome

gustave le gray - palerme

Gustave Le Gray – Palermo

mister glasses April 1, 2009

Posted by mmonla in Architecture, Humour.
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The death of modernism has finally made the big screen! Well, sort of.

I’m especially amused by the note: “this is a video response to Philip Johnson on Charlie Rose”.


What do you have to say? February 28, 2009

Posted by mmonla in Architecture, Art and Design, Politics.

“Welcome to Palestine. After 620 kilometers of fence & Wall, all around, you are back where you were.”

These words can be found on www.sendamessage.nl, a website set up by a Dutch marketing group paired with local Palestinian NGOs. And thanks to them, you can now “buy” a message on the wall, have it spraypainted by Palestinian volunteers and even get digital photographs of your wall art emailed to you. In a true globalised fashion, anyone today within reach of a computer can leave their trace in an area they would most likely never have any physical access to.

From wedding proposals to humour to political statements, there is no limit to what can be seen painted on the concrete barrier. It not only provides financial relief to Palestinians whose livelihoods have been affected by the wall but also questions the nature of the separation, one post at a time.

As one contributor put it… “love conquers (w)all”



there is no use looking back December 15, 2008

Posted by mmonla in Architecture.
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There is a commemorative plaque that stands at the site of St Ann’s church in Griffintown, the heart of what used to be a large Irish community. Today, although there is little left of the Irish, Italians or Ukrainians that populated the neighbourhood, there is nevertheless much to learn about what the area now is. To find out, I trek southwards from Little Burgundy to 1500 Ottawa Street, site of the abandoned Canada Post sorting facility. As for what Griffintown should become, there is much controversy and little consensus – the area itself offers few indicators for its future. If any insight is then to be found, it may be time to look elsewhere.

I begin my trek at Georges Vanier metro station and walk slowly southwards towards 1500 Ottawa Street, through neighbourhoods that have never had a place in Montreal’s official tour guide. First there is Little Burgundy: terraced houses and back gardens, then a large communal garden followed by the community church. The streets may have been empty that day, but there certainly was no lack of vibrancy in church. For a day that wasn’t Christmas or Easter, I have never seen such a roomful of people gathered in a church hall for service. The entire scene felt like a surreal movie set about an idyllic community whose vitality was unquestionable.
The vitality of my trip however was short lived. Barring a brief locus of activity at Notre Dame Street, the community feel was all but gone as I continued towards my destination. By the time I walked down Guy’s last stretch, all that was left was an underused semi-industrial landscape. The narrow street’s low-rise red brick warehouses were marked only by a few back doors and some graffiti. It wasn’t homely here anymore.

Three thousand miles away in Silvertown, one of the industrial wastelands to the East of London, I was given the same, albeit more dramatic, impression. It wasn’t welcoming there either. On a cold winter day, I precariously walked along a highway leading to Silvertown, ironically the only walkable link between the two closest DLR stations. On one hand, the ground plane had been replaced by warehouses holding up a derelict council block and an old church. On the other, a dramatic empty river-front landscape was pierced by a small factory. Save the millennium dome that could be seen in the back across the water, the scene spewed more of post-war desolation than 21st century London. A friend of mine once told me it reminded him of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has never been to the Middle East.
Silvertown shares not only a similar sounding name to Griffintown but also the industrial past, the workers’ housing, the post-industrial dereliction, the nostalgic accounts of life in the slums, the developers’ recent interest, the cities tired of the underuse… It seems every city in the western world hides a small Detroit somewhere. And by now, there is no community left in Silvertown either: “If you play hunt-the-corner-shop you might eventually find a small parade with a Costcutter, a chippy, a bookie and a greasy spoon, with a strip club two corners away.” (more…)

We are the wolves of the sea June 11, 2008

Posted by mmonla in Humour.
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Let’s get straight to the point: EUROVISION 2008.

It’s that kind of show you want to watch but don’t really want to admit to having seen. Or you’ll play the 90s “ironic” card and maintain the purity of your coolness by claiming you watched it under a veil of sardonic humor.
And you know who’ll help you with that? BBC commentator Terry Wogan. Here are a few highlights of his “commentating”*:

Referring to Swedish commentator Björn Gustafsson:
“You look like a million dollars, Björn.”

Just when the Latvian pirates (literally) are about to take the stage:
“Now’s the time to practice your Johnny Depp impersonations.”

About the Polish singer:
“You haven’t seen teeth like these since the Osmonds.”

(Allow me a bit of a side rant concerning Denmark’s entry. How many times will people still be allowed to call a song some variation of “dancing all night long”? We get it. You can stay up late.)

But putting aside the pirates, the angels and the dancing Danes, there were nevertheless a few (two) highlights:
– The 75-year-old Croatian man called 75 Cent: priceless.
– The French entry: brilliant but I’ll get back to that later.

As for Sir Terry, he was not happy the UK ended up last tied with Germany and Poland. In fact, the unfortunate consequence of the UK’s terrible night was an angry outcry from Sir Wogan himself against bloc voting, expatriate minority voting and even racism – obviously the only possible explanations for the UK not winning.
Though there may be some truth to these statements, the attitude is besides the point really: one either goes down the path of dry wit or embraces the trashiness and vows for the top spot, the Nobel of tacky. You can’t have both (and I say go for the first).

And that’s where France shined. They had a man riding in on a golf cart holding a balloon, a trippy song and bearded female vocalists singing something about the milky way. They maintained their dignity and pride by not bothering to be above or below the competition, but completely beside it. How’s THAT for ironic?

*I send a public invitation for more Terry Wogan quotes that I may add to my collection. Any help is welcome.

Excess baggage April 29, 2008

Posted by mmonla in Uncategorized.

Say hello to the world’s first diamond-encrusted credit card. No this isn’t a joke, this is the Royale Mastercard; the card that will get you any transaction regardless of size and amount on credit, “preferential access to the Burj Al Arab Hotel”, “special yacht charter deals” and a personal manager. And your key to the heavens comes with a solitaire diamond smack in the middle of it, obviously.

Royale Mastercard

I’m intrigued; the medium of exchange has become the object of desire (and status) in itself. A prelude to the gold leaf dollar bill?

Oh Danny boy… March 16, 2008

Posted by mmonla in Uncategorized.

Happy St Patrick’s day!

True journalism March 15, 2008

Posted by mmonla in Humour.
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That’s dedication right there…

Il Conformista March 13, 2008

Posted by mmonla in Art and Design.
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I’ve posted below a few screenshots and an extract of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Il Conformista. The film explores fascist psychology through a mid-level civil servant (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who joins the secret police in his quest for normality. Not only is the screenplay well thought out, the settings are stunning. Shown below are a few screenshots of Trintignant walking across the government headquarters. Got to love those huge empty halls.

Even Coppola makes a tribute to the film through the blowing leaves reference in the Godfather II (yes, I’m a fan).




This is the asylum scene. I love the huge white box and the lined benches. Notice the flying leaves scene….

Anchors Aweigh! March 12, 2008

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Because I just had to… here’s the classic dancing scene from Anchors Aweigh; a remarkable achievement for 1945 and the first ever animated character/live actor duet.

Gene Kelly and Jerry Mouse, can’t go wrong.

Do the test March 12, 2008

Posted by mmonla in Uncategorized.
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Simply brilliant.

Surrealist Hues March 12, 2008

Posted by mmonla in Art and Design.

I’ve posted below a few pictures by photographer Jerry Uelsmann. His work consists of darkroom manipulation of multiple negatives to create surrealist imagery. I’m very impressed by his darkroom editing techniques; they’re very… ‘old photoshop’.

With the advent of digital photography, we’ve become quite used to this type of photomontage. But back when these prints were created, the photographic image was mostly considered as true as the eye.

Jerry 1

jerry 2

jerry 3

The weightwatcher’s guide to Islington February 29, 2008

Posted by mmonla in Humour.
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Some guy decides to ski down the Angel tube escalator, dramatic music and all…

The Jacob Carter fanclub February 17, 2008

Posted by mmonla in Art and Design.
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Through bldgblog, I recently came across Jacob Carter‘s photography. I’ve posed a few pictures below. I love the way he experiments with both film and digital editing techniques to create a mood that’s very… haunting. Love it, very powerful aesthetics.

More on his website.

Jacob Carter 1

Jacob Carter 2

Jacob Carter 3

Silvertown Blues December 8, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture.
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I went on a little eastwards walk the other day to Silvertown in the East End of London. The area is an industrial district that is home to the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery, a few abandoned buildings and a sea of warehouses. I was there mainly to see a small twelve flat affordable housing scheme by Niall McLaughin for the Peabody housing trust. Why? Essentially to see the building’s striking facade: two levels of an iridescent paper-like material produced by 3M are fixed behind the glass on the main elevation. As you walk along the street, even on an overcast day, the building glows like petrol on water.

I find it a bit unfortunate that the idea is in no way reflected inside the flats. You want to believe that it glows on the inside too but in fact the material is simply used as a facade treatment, in a way denying the living areas behind the screen the opportunity to gain from the concept. Having said this, the subtle reference to the history of the site (and its many chemical industries) as the basis for the concept makes this simple building somehow more ‘credible’ than the erase-and-rewind houses around there.

Here are a few pictures that I’ve taken from the architects’ website. Further down, I’ve posted a few pictures that I’ve taken around the area.

Peabody 1 Peabody 2

Pebody 4 Peabody 5

Silvertown 1 Silvertown 2 Silvertown 3 Silvertown 4

I saw it on TV, it must be true! November 28, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Politics.
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Here’s a very interesting article on Reagan’s PR man, Michael Deaver, whose ideas helped shape the relation between politics and media.

I suppose this one’s the ‘black sheep’ of his legacy…

Tales of Wales November 17, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture.
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I spent last weekend in Wales and had the chance to visit (by complete luck, really) the Tintern Abbey in the Wye Valley. By no stretch of the imagination, it is the most impressive sight I have seen in Great Britain so far. Originally built in 1131 as the first Cistercian abbey in Wales, it housed a group of white monks that placed uncompromising value on poverty and favoured seclusion. That explains the location of the abbey, deep in the Wye Valley and far from any notable settlement. When Henry VIII disbanded the monastic orders, it was abandoned; left to decay and occasionally quarried for its stone. That is, until it was rediscovered by the romantics, among whom the poet Wordsworth and J.M.W. Turner himself.

Almost a century after it was built and though roofless and windowless, the abbey maintains an imposing presence on the landscape. Go visit it if you’re ever in Wales, and make a point of climbing to the devil’s pulpit to see it from high above.

“Good architecture becomes ruins, bad architecture disappears.” – Salmona

Tintern1 Tintern2

Tintern3 Tintern4

Tintern5 Tintern6

Umbra Sumus October 30, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture.

The Jamme Masjid mosque on Brick Lane is an amazing example of a building’s dependance on its context. But more importantly, it illustrates the remarkable history of London’s East End as a gateway for successive waves of immigrants. First built as a protestant church by Huguenots refugees after being expelled from France [1743], it was later converted to a Methodist chapel by Irish immgrants [1819], a synagogue by the neighbourhood’s growing Jewish population [1898] and finally a mosque by the latest wave of Bengali immigrants [1976]. Yet unlike other examples of religious appropriations around the world, there was no violent cultural takeover, no grand architectural statements of annexation. The nondescript brick building simply remains the spiritual centre of a community that keeps changing.

A sundial, with the latin inscription ‘Umbra Sumus’ (we are shadows), is set above the entrance. Fitting, isn’t it?

Pictures of the mosque


Masjid 3 Masjid 4

Traces of the old Jewish community

Jewish 1 Jewish 2 Jewish 3

Traces of the current Bengali community

Bengal 2 Bengal 1

Wrap it up! October 12, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture.
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I recently came across a project by German architects Fink+Jocher for a student residence in Munich. That same day, I sat in on a design review for a similar project, a student residence here in England. It was a good scheme as a whole but one thing was missing: none of the windows were operable and no terrasse/balcony space was provided (though there were no lack of great opportunities). Both the architects and the clients (read: mainly the clients) seemed genuinely scared of students, and specifically of students throwing themselves or things off the building at the slightest occasion. Sure, it’s a big liability to be fair and probably a fairly reasonable concern but this is where F+J’s inventiveness lies: they’ve turned what I assume to be similar constraints to their design advantage by… wrapping the entire building in a steel net.

Fink + Jocher - Garching Student Residence 1Fink + Jocher - Garching Student Residence 2Fink + Jocher - Garching Student Residence 3

Circulation is constrained to the outside of a simple rectangular plan, along the net and giving access to the individual rooms. Huge windows looking onto the communal walkway are provided for each individual dwelling. A lack of privacy was my first concern but after some thought, I believe that the standards for housing and student housing just aren’t the same. Frankly, when I was living in student accommodation, we used to sit outside our individual doors in the hallway to chat since there simply weren’t many communal areas. Making friends is the main reason most students choose to start off in a residence and that makes the choice of a wide exterior walkway effective in my opinion. Will it be used like a street is used outside a pub in London?

And it get better: climbing plants will soon be taking over the entire netted façade, turning a very transparent building into a very introspective one. This leaves me with a thought: will the ivy encourage more students to stop along the walkway to socialize by providing some coverage from the street? Plant growth is a very subtle way of providing privacy from the street, and I’m curious to see if this will affect the residents’ habits.

A building in a net; why didn’t I think of that?

The architects’ page

Detail magazine downloadable article

Built Memories July 1, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture.
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I’m halfway through the book The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War by Robert Bevan. In it, he establishes the relation between repressing a people’s physical memory (their buildings in this case) and death itself. Cultural repressions is a tool of war in itself: to the risk of sounding too Jung-ian, since buildings are meant to outlast us, then their destruction is a loss of a people’s collective identity. Whether by means of actual conquests, revolutions or ethnic strife, Bevan builds his case quite clearly through his examples: Bosnia, Dresden in 1945, Ireland, Palestine, etc…

And in fact, the strength of the book lies in the breadth of the examples that are given. Bevan focuses on deliberate attacks to architecture, which he claims are a means of cultural annihilation and repression. A few of the examples given: the Mostar bridge, the World Trade Center or the Taliban’s destruction of the 1500 year-old buddhas.

However, I think a case can also be made for wars’ collateral damage to architecture. Though not intended as acts of “proto-genocide”, the result is nevertheless a modification, granted not an erasure, of the collective memory associated to a place. Of course, these changes also occur in peacetime, progress and development alter cities. But as Bevan notes, the focus is on brutal change linked to societal “collapses and upheavals”.

Both of these lines of thought (intentional and collateral damage) lead to some important questions with regards to, among other things, reconstruction. Since the memory has been altered, what is the effect of rebuilding the destroyed or damaged structure? If in theory we were to posses all the plans of every single building destroyed in Bosnia for example, should they be rebuilt in replicas?

As a final note, here’s a picture I took a few years ago in Beirut. This house was still inhabited, probably by refugees, when the shot was taken.

Ghost House

Il fait beau dans l’métro! May 19, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Architecture, Art and Design.

The Stockholm subway is a good example of public art, exhibiting the work of about 130 artists over 110km of track. In fact, it’s called the longest art gallery in the world… and sure, I can believe that. Some of the stations were dug out of solid rock with the ceilings and walls left with a cave-like feel. In short, they’ve managed to transform what looks like a set of fairly standard subway tunnels into a very interesting experience. Judge for yourself below, I’ve posted a few pictures taken from this site. Seriously, doesn’t it make commuting to work just that much more fun?

Stockholm Subway 1

Stockholm Subway 2

Stockholm Subway 3

Reminds me a bit of the Montreal metro (not just because of the trains): both systems were built around the same time and incorporate art into the designs. In the case of the Montreal metro, though stylistically out of date and with its own set of problems, there’s an added bonus of some absolutely great spaces. I’d emphasize the lengths to which the designers and engineers went to in order to incorporate natural daylighting into the deeper stations, especially in the underground multistorey spaces like Monk and Verdun. Instead of backfilling the holes into narrow corridors and low ceilings, the underground spaces are left either completely open in the case of Verdun, or equipped with mezzanines and balconies in the case of Monk.

Verdun 21.9m deep:

Verdun metro 1 Verdun metro 2

Monk, 18.3m deep:

Monk metro 2 Monk metro 1

I found the pictures at this metro aficionado‘s site. Check it out for more info on the metro, it’s bilingual for your convenience and has a comprehensive rating of every station!

So now what? Well this short rant serves as a preamble to my finally visiting the 3 new Laval stations. We’ll see what judgement befalls them…

Méliès for an oscar? May 18, 2007

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Georges Méliès is probably still one of the most creative filmmakers in cinema history, credited with the invention of a number of editing tricks. He invariably manages to showcase them all within the span of a few minutes, such as in his ‘Voyage dans la lune’ from 1902 (Trip to the moon), an adventure story that’s very Jules Vernes in style. Some of the scenes are great, like the ship in the moon’s eye and the ‘clair de terre’ scenes. I also love the use of the stop trick to “vaporise” the moon people. Notice how at the end, just before the statue scene, one of the moon’s inhabitants manages to make it down to earth…

But here’s my personal favorite, a very short film made entirely in his home studio (like all his other productions). Hilarious…

Motivated by Captain Kirk May 18, 2007

Posted by mmonla in Humour.

First off, thanks to Cat who first introduced me to the Star Trek motivational posters…

A strange obsession seems to have gripped the cyber-community for motivational posters, de-motivational posters and unrelated posters using the same exciting colour scheme. I have decided to jump on the bandwagon and nominate my two favourites:

Captain Kirk


But it gets better! It appears that you can now create your own motivational poster here! I’ve decided to give it a shot and behold… my very own inspirational poster, starring Eugene Hutz, frontman for Gogol Bordello.

Inspirational Gogol