Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Monastery of Sainte-Marie de La Tourette

“Concrete is a material that does not cheat; it replaces, it cuts out the need for that trickster – coating. Béton Bruts says: I am concrete.” -Le Corbusier 

Oh, what dramatic words Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris!

It is not surprising that Le Corbusier, should have designed a monastery. After all, Modernists have often claimed precedents in the great Cistercian abbeys of the Middle Ages such as Fontaine, whose bleak, unfinished walls and stubborn austerity reflect the strict self-denial of its order. Perhaps more similarities have been found between this genre of architecture and modernism than actually exist if we were to understand the underlying principals of Christianity and those of a historicist ideology, nonetheless, La Tourette is a place where this exercise in concrete manages to at least not insult its function and role. (I'm still thinking about that last statement.

The Dominican monastery of La Tourette is located above the town of L’Arbresle about 25 kilometers outside of Lyon. This was Le Corbusier’s last major building and was begun in 1953. Though a staunch atheist, Le Corbusier designed several religious buildings. One can only ask why he was hired to do them, as his entire theory of architecture was diametrically opposed to religion. Regardless, the monastery still stands as a bleak monument to the dubious architectural innovations of the 20th century, and as a Mecca for aging modernist architects.

The form of the building is that of a large rectangle supported on piers, and located on a sloping hill such that the back of the building is at ground level and the front is some 25 feet above the field it looms over. The plan is laid out as a simple rectangle surrounding an open courtyard, yet upon entering the building, the complicated and intricate fluidity of the promenade, circulation and seemingly randomly placed structures is difficult to make sense of. Essentially, it is a U-shaped cell block for the monks closed off by the more solid chapel structure. The U shape puts the monk’s cells on the outside with circulation running around the inside and almost entirely open to the inside space through the use of large windows which use concrete in patterns which Le Corbusier designed after the music of the monk’s daily services.
The building is approached from the North by its least eloquent side and at the top – the wrong way round as it were. In the words of the modernists "the imposing wall of the church suddenly rises up against the sunlight, recalling (alluding to?) images of ancient walled abbeys."
From here we gain a view of the interior of the “cloister" and the cell block’s interior with its many windows. Indeed, the structure is imposing with its brutal concrete seeming to the viewer like a bunker or massive bridge pier.
The building is constructed almost entirely of reinforced concrete, used both structurally, and as venire structure supported from large “pilotis” as Le Corbusier called them, or central columns which raised the building off the ground and freed the walls of the façade for long strip windows. These pilotis unlock glimpses of the "central void" containing the enclosed cloister whose form bears none of the features of traditional cloisters; instead, one follows an internal “promenade intricately interwoven with diverse components contrasting sharply with the underlying simplicity of the plan."
What makes this a good example of the use of concrete is that it uses concrete as a finish material. Nowhere in this structure is there a use of a finish material or coating for the concrete that is the structure. From the “pilotis” that support the building to the walls and even windows, concrete is used in its raw unfinished form.
Béton bruts is a concrete finish that is achieved by using wooden planks as the form for the concrete. This leaves the concrete with a rough finish with the direct imprint of the sawn wood. Often this can be so convincing that if painted it can look just like weatherboarding or panels. This was not the intent of le Corbusier. He sought a sincerity in an architecture that did not “lie.” Throughout La Tourette béton bruts is used to give the concrete as rough a texture as possible in an effort to not only let us know it is concrete, but to never let us forget it. Because the concrete used these forms to get the rough finish, it was necessarily poured in place concrete. Depending on the forms that the concrete was to take it was smoothed to greater or lesser degrees. Here is an example of béton brut where we can see how the final finish reflects the formwork of the concrete.

While parts of the building retain the strict form of the rectangle, others break free of straight lines and achieve strange contours and curves, such as these light passages in ceilings of the side chapels.
The concrete is used right up to the details, formed up even to hold the paines of glass to be found in most of the windows.
Overall, the use of concrete in this building is not so amazing simply in its structural qualities. The “pilotis” system had been used many times by Le Corbusier. Rather, it was its combination of structure and aesthetics into a single unmasked entity: the building itself. The very austerity and starkness of the building was seen as beautiful and appropriate to its function as a place of self denial and meditation.

Here is a watercolour I did of La Tourette quand j'avais six ans!

Here's Theo Jansen's mechanism for his creature

Les Ux

From The Times
September 29, 2007
Underground ‘terrorists’ with a mission to save city’s neglected heritage
By day, Lazar Kunstmann is a typically avant-garde Parisian, an urbane, well-spoken video film editor who hangs out in the fashionable Latin Quarter. By night he inhabits a strange and secret world with its base in the tunnels beneath the French capital – the world of the urban explorers.
Mr Kunstmann belongs to les UX, a clandestine network that is on a mission to discover and exploit the city’s neglected underworld. The urban explorers put on film shows in underground galleries, restore medieval crypts and break into monuments after dark to organise plays and readings. In the eyes of their supporters, they are the white knights of modern culture, renovating forgotten buildings and staging artistic events beyond the reach of a stifling civil service.
The authorities view them differently: as the dark side of the City of Light – irresponsible, paranoid subversives whose actions could serve as a model for terrorists. A police unit has been trained to track les UX through the sewers, catacombs and old quarries that are their pathways under Paris. Prosecutors have been instructed to file charges whenever feasible.
The stand-off is symbolic of French society: a rigorous bureaucracy on the surface with a bizarre subculture below.
Mr Kunstmann, a spokesman for the movement, met The Times last week in the back room of a bar in central Paris. Beside him sat a thin, austere-looking woman who sipped a beer, gave her name only as Lanso and barely said a word throughout the interview.
From time to time, however, she whispered into Mr Kunstmann’s ear and he relayed the message. “We are the counterpoint to an era where everything is slow and complicated,” he said. “It’s very difficult to get anything done through official channels. If you want to do it, you have to be clandestine.”
Mr Kunstmann said that les UX had 150 or so members divided into about ten branches.One group, which is all-female, specialises in “infiltration” – getting into museums after hours, finding a way through underground electric or gas networks and shutting down alarms. Another runs an internal message system and a coded, digital radio network accessible only to members.
A third group provides a database, a fourth organises subterranean shows and a fifth takes photographs of them. Mr Kunstmann refused to talk about the other groups.
He did, however, say that Lanso was the leader of a branch called the Untergunther – the name comes from a German record whose music served as an alarm on an early mission – which specialised in restoration. This group, whose members include architects and historians, rebuilt an abandoned 100-year-old French government bunker and renovated a 12th-century crypt, he said. They claim to be motivated by a desire to preserve Paris’s heritage.
Last year the Untergunther spent months hidden in the Panthéon, the Parisian mausoleum that holds France’s greatest citizens, where they repaired a clock that had been left to rust. Slipping in at closing time every evening – French television said that they had their own set of keys – they set up a workshop hidden behind mock wooden crates at the top of the monument. The security guards never found it. The Untergunther used a professional clockmaker, Jean-Baptiste Viot, to mend the 150-year-old mechanism.
When the clock began working again, officials were horrified. The Centre for National Monuments confirmed that the clock had been repaired but said that the authority had begun legal action against the Untergunther. Under official investigation for breaking and entry, its members face a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a €15,000 (£10,500) fine.
“We could go down in legal history as the first people ever to be prosecuted for repairing a clock,” said Mr Kunstmann. But he was unrepentant.
“In any other country, a monument such as the Panthéon would be maintained in a perfect state. But not in France. Here, if we hadn’t restored the clock, no one else would have bothered.”

Movie Update: Bella

I just saw Bella. It wasn't that bad. I thought I was in for an all out anti-abortion movie from what I had heard. I'd say there are some serious plot issues, but overall I was amazed at how graceful the film was. Rather than coming at the issue defensively, or with a fight in mind the film was about more than the simple choice to have a child or not. I haven't seen any of the rescent movies that are out, which apparently seem to lean toward the pro-life camp (Juno, Knocked Up), but this one certainly handled it in a way that at least allowed for discussion.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

From Curious Expeditions

Interesting. It kind of stinks they blew a hole in the side of the cave. I wonder who the loon was who decided to see if he could swim under a cliff and found it. Notice Andrew bird playing in the background... odd.

Music That Most People Listen To

Almost all music in the mainstream is awful. That said, I’m not one to say I’d rather keep the stuff I like unknown. However, it is a kind of sinking feeling when something you have always loved gets popular on a broad scale. The same thing is true of books or movies or anything. You can’t help but think it will become polluted with celebrity, or whatever. Or you're just selfish. Actually, I'm pretty sure that's how it is with me.

Anyway, the music that is popular today isn't of course bad just because it is popular. It's bad because it is completely cut off from any kind of true tradition of music. It is all about making people “feel” and is kitch tripe if we were to compare it with what other era’s had; music that one had to interact with personally and intellectually as well as emotionally. There is nothing personal about celebrity, and the thousands of little digital concerts that are being playedout on the zombie like populace’s ipods. All of which might imply that the fault is that of recording music at all.

Before and After Devin's Magical Powers

This was before.....
Now this is after!!!
It still amazes me.


What if tragedy is about trying to maintain as much honour as possible in dishonourable circumstances? Would comedy then be being a little bit dishonourable in an honourable situation? How clever...

Somehow this is strangely beautiful.

Death Masks

This is Pascal's death mask. He looks like a pretty nice guy. I think I would have enjoyed meeting him.

This is Voltaire's death mask. Pretty scary... just like the man. He would have his eyes open. What a freak. He reminds me of Dr. Finkelstein in The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Aedicule Analytique

Here is an Analytique I did recently in studio. It is a design for a aedicule to go on the side of an orangerie I designed later.
(Notice my Garelli)

The Jumblies

Edward Lear

They went to sea in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they went to sea:
In spite of all their friends could say,
On a winter's morn, on a stormy day,
In a Sieve they went to sea!
And when the Sieve turned round and round,
And every one cried, 'You'll all be drowned!'
They called aloud, 'Our Sieve ain't big,
But we don't care a button! we don't care a fig!
In a Sieve we'll go to sea!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed away in a Sieve, they did,
In a Sieve they sailed so fast,
With only a beautiful pea-green veil
Tied with a riband by way of a sail,
To a small tobacco-pipe mast;
And every one said, who saw them go,'
O won't they be soon upset, you know!
For the sky is dark, and the voyage is long,
And happen what may, it's extremely wrong
In a Sieve to sail so fast!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

The water it soon came in, it did,
The water it soon came in;
So to keep them dry, they wrapped their feet
In a pinky paper all folded neat,
And they fastened it down with a pin.
And they passed the night in a crockery-jar,
And each of them said, 'How wise we are!
Though the sky be dark, and the voyage be long,
Yet we never can think we were rash or wrong,
While round in our Sieve we spin!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And all night long they sailed away;
And when the sun went down,
They whistled and warbled a moony song
To the echoing sound of a coppery gong,
In the shade of the mountains brown.
'O Timballo! How happy we are,
When we live in a Sieve and a crockery-jar,
And all night long in the moonlight pale,
We sail away with a pea-green sail,
In the shade of the mountains brown!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

They sailed to the Western Sea, they did,
To a land all covered with trees,
And they bought an Owl, and a useful Cart,
And a pound of Rice, and a Cranberry Tart,
And a hive of silvery Bees.
And they bought a Pig, and some green Jack-daws,
And a lovely Monkey with lollipop paws,
And forty bottles of Ring-Bo-Ree,
And no end of Stilton Cheese.
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

And in twenty years they all came back,
In twenty years or more,
And every one said, 'How tall they've grown!
For they've been to the Lakes, and the Torrible Zone,
And the hills of the Chankly Bore!'
And they drank their health, and gave them a feast
Of dumplings made of beautiful yeast;
And every one said, 'If we only live,
We too will go to sea in a Sieve,---
To the hills of the Chankly Bore!'
Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue,
And they went to sea in a Sieve.

The Puchavus: 50cc Cafe Racer

I am building a bike to compete in our planned 50cc Cafe Races. The Puchavus will be rather unusual. Well, it will be a Batuvus with a two speed Puch engine... weird, I know.

A lot of people have built or are building what they call a "cafe racer." I beg to differ with them. A cafe racer is more than a set of drop bars, more than a quarter fairing, more than a stripped down, polished and kitted out Magnum.

So what is a cafe racer then? What is it that those crazy Brits came up with? and why?

Born out of the poverty of Post War Europe. The cafe racer was the precursor to the widely popular sportbikes of today. In the 1950s, motorcycles were primarily used for everyday transportation. The only fast bikes available were Grand Prix, or expensive race bikes. But then came rock and roll and the rebellious youth that took claim of this new musical style. They needed a special type of bike, a bike that could go AND look fast, and that didn’t cost too much. Stock motorcycles were no good for these groups; they didn’t handle well enough, as well as the fact that the new bikes were far too expensive for the teenagers and 20-somethings that were the groups’ primary members. Most work was done by the rider, or under his direction. The bikes were customized not only to reflect the individual style of the rider, but also to be agile and aerodynamic along Europe’s newly built twisting arterial motorways. Standard handlebars were replaced by super low ace bars or one-sided clip-ons. Next came racing style petrol/gas tanks and seats. The aluminum gas tanks were large and hand-made and most often left unpainted. Lastly was the paint job, though the Rockers and Ton Up boys were distinctively black clad, from their leather jackets and down to their jackboots, they often painted their bikes in fast’ or racing’ colors, like yellow, blue, or silver/chrome. Before the blanket 70 mph speed limit was laid upon the masses, the goal of many of these racers was to reach the coveted ton’ or a speed of 100mph while traveling from one transport caf to another. The need for speed, to look cool, and to be different were the primary reasons for a bike’s conversion to a cafe racer.

The Bike:
Batuvus Starflight frame, tank and wheels
Puch Za50 engine
Moto-Matic "San Francisco" Exhaust
Amal 17mm carborator
Custom intake
Vintage Cosmo "Bumstop" seat
Boost bottle
Drop bars (eventually clip-ons)
Motorcycle headlight
Tear-drop trailer tail light
Speedo mount off headset

The defining mark of this bike will be its stripped and polished tank and "bumstop" seat.

Updated October 19th, 2009:
For the record, this is the original "Puchavus." I am aware of a certain Buffalo Boy's Batavus/Puch combination (possibly even completed before the Puchavus) called the "Batapuch." That the name of this bike changed to Puchavus when it was up for sale at the beginning of the year is kind of weak, since the overall stability, much less panache, of the bike is not in the least comparable to that of the Puchavus. There is only one Puchavus.

Upon Having Misidentified a Wildflower

By Richard Wilbur

A thrush, because I'd been wrong,
Burst rightly into song
In a world not vague, not lonely,
Not governed by me only.