A Decade Into Responsive Web Design

From Ethan Marcotte, the ‘inventor’ and person who established the concept of ‘responsive architecture’, on the process of how his epiphany came to be:

Around that time, my partner Elizabeth visited the High Line in New York City shortly after it opened. When she got back, she told me about these wheeled lounge chairs she saw in one section, and how people would move them apart for a bit of solitude, or push a few chairs together to sit closer to friends. We got to excitedly chatting about them. I thought there was something really compelling about that image: a space that could be controlled, reshaped, and redesigned by the people who moved through it.

I remember spending that evening reading more about those chairs and, from there, about more dynamic forms of architecture. I read about concepts for walls built with tensile materials and embedded sensors, and how those walls could bend and flex as people drew near to them. I read about glass walls that could become opaque at the flip of a switch, or when movement was detected. I even bought a rather wonderful book on the subject, Interactive Architecture, which described these new spaces as “a conversation” between physical objects or spaces, and the people who interacted with them.

After a few days of research, I found some articles that alternated between two different terms for the same concept. They’d call it interactive architecture, sure, but then they’d refer to it with a different name: responsive architecture.

A light went off in my head. Responsive felt right for what I was trying to describe: layouts that would just know the best way to fit on a user’s screen. A user wouldn’t have to tap or click on anything to get the best design for their laptop or smartphone; rather, the design could fluidly adapt to the space available. It’d just respond.

And to think that before this, the collective ‘we’ had to look at web pages that were the same size and did not adjust to the different screens or devices that were beginning to pop up out there in the wild. Like the animals we were.

Syracuse U To Digitize Marcel Breuer Archives

Breuer’s Starkey House, Duluth, MN

In late March, my alma mater Syracuse University will be releasing the digitized archives of Marcel Breuer’s 30,000 drawings, photographs, and other materials from the early stages of his illustrious architecture and design career (at breuer.syr.edu…but the site is not up yet).

Breuer achieved remarkable success as a student in the furniture workshop of the Bauhaus, leading Walter Gropius to offer him a faculty position in 1925. That same year, he earned widespread critical acclaim for his tubular steel ‘Wassily’ chair, which incorporated the radical simplicity of form and interest in industrial materials often espoused by the Bauhaus. Breuer helped to redefine post-war American domestic architecture through projects like the ‘bi-nuclear’ house and the demonstration house in the garden of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (1949). He designed some 60 private residences by the mid-1950s, all of which are represented in the Marcel Breuer Digital Archive.

I am not a huge fan of Bauhaus style, but Breuer’s impact on the world of design and architecture can not be denied. Similar to how Frank Lloyd Wright extended his designs into the interior of the building, Breuer did the same with his furniture designs. Some of the most distinctive and lasting furniture and chair designs were developed by Breuer. When you go to a Doctor’s offic, more times than not you will sit in one of his Ceska chairs. When I was younger, a friend and neighbor of mine had one of his Wassily Chairs in their house.

Also, next to Rem Koolaas, Walter Gropius (Breuer’s mentor) is one of the coolest architect’s name out there. :P

via Inside SU

Vertical Forest

An interesting project is underway in Milan, Italy where architect Sefano Boeri designed a pair of highrises that incorporate trees on the exterior of every floor.

The concept of reforestation within the city context intends to minimize the expansion of established urban fabric for additional green spaces while still increasing biodiversity which has been lost during development. the implementation of this project serves as a model for contemporary european cities for linking a building with nature within city limits.

The design of the buildings incorporated how the plants and trees would produce CO2 for the building and the area around it. Practically speaking, I’m wondering who is going to trim those trees on the higher floors.

via Designboom

Ruins of Colonnade Row

Back in the day, Colonnade Row was a top address for the guilded age wealthy of NYC. However, in the infinite wisdom of other NYC real estate moves, John Wannamaker tore down five of the facades of this beautiful architectural landmark to put up one of his warehouses. And since that infamous decision, the fate of these ruins have remained a mystery. That is, unless you went to the Delbarton School in Morristown, NJ:

In the 1890s the Philadelphia dry goods magnate John Wanamaker, who had taken over the old A. T. Stewart store on Broadway and Eighth Street, acquired the southerly five houses of Colonnade Row. In 1902, or perhaps 1903, he demolished his properties.

Two decades later, Delbarton, the country house of the banker Luther Kountze in Morristown, N.J., came to be owned by a Benedictine monastery, St. Mary’s Abbey, which also operates the Delbarton School.

Generations of students wandered into the woods for nonacademic purposes, encountering a mysterious group of tumbled Corinthian capitals, column drums, wreaths and cornices that came to be known as the Lost City.

The archivist of Delbarton was always curious about these ruins in the forest behind the school, and it was a recent and amazingly simple Google search that solved the mystery.

In a chance encounter with a garden designer, Marta McDowell of Chatham, N.J., Father Benet mentioned his continuing quest. Within a day or two, he recalls, she had typed into Google the search string ‘wanamaker Corinthian demolition’ raising a March 2008 article in Period Homes magazine by the classical architect Thomas Gordon Smith on the surviving houses of Colonnade Row “with images that match exactly the pieces of Delbarton’s Lost City.” Bingo.

As it happens Mr. Smith, a professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame, has for years been studying Colonnade Row, making measured drawings of the surviving houses and interiors. He used them as an inspiration in designing the 2007 Classical Galleries in the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

When he learned of the Delbarton trove, he was in Morristown in a week, like an Egyptologist who has found out that there is another chamber in King Tut’s Tomb.

Doing a simple search on Google today yields a Flickr Photo Set from May of this year that also connects these dots, so while this mystery is profiled in the NY Times today, it’s really been in the public domain for about 4 months now.

Old Colonnade Row Photo courtesy Curator of Shit

Farnsworth House

This past weekend, my wife and I took the second leg of our three stop journey to see three of the most amazing post-modern architecture landmarks in the country, if not in the World, by visiting Meis van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Plano, IL. The tour was very interesting and engaging and if you are ever in Chicago, I’d recommend you take the opportunity to drive out there and visit.

As you may recall, back in October we visited Philip Johnson’s Glass House in New Caanan, CT. Later this year, we’re planning on visiting Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, out in Bear Run, PA.

The tour guide at Farnsworth House was very knowledgeable of the history of the house, including the deterioration of the relationship between Meis and Dr. Edith Farnsworth by the time the house was completed. He told of how Dr. Farnsworth wanted to decorate the space with her own furniture and curtains, while Meis had a specific vision to have the interior design and space be one with the exterior.

In terms of the property and the house itself, I felt that the house was much more of an element of its surroundings, with its proximity to the Fox River and the creeks running near by. The huge pane glass windows and the cantilevered porch drew the outside into the living space and I felt much more comfortable in the space. The way the kitchen was designed within the space was extremely interesting. But of all the elements of the house, probably the most innovative and impressive from an engineering perspective was the way Meis had all the “guts” of the house flow through one small engineering room in the middle of the structure. When I look at both buildings, Farnsworth seemed so welcoming while the Glass House, with is herringbone brick floor, its black metal structure, and a feeling that the structure itself was just dropped on the plot of land, had a pervasively cold and soulless feeling.