Month: April 2016

13. More Glass

And [a history] of its [glass] meaning

Glass as building material has always meant connection to the outside world, often at a cost of warmth (or dryness). Two papers/essays discussed in past architectural theory classes covered some of the evolving meaning of glass and of windows in the 20th century. Type and its Transformation by Alan Colquhoun discusses the various types of windows used by Le Corbusier, in terms of their meaning and function. In Richard Neutra and the Psychology of the American Spectator Sylvia Lavin discusses two churches in Southern California – one a drive-in ministry and the other for a televangelist.


12. Glass, a History

The history of its [glass] production and use

Wikipedia is remarkably details on this topic. I have little to add except to say that windows hold symbolic value, which is why people buy windows with useless pieces of fake frame pretending to divide one pane of glass into six. It seems like glass always looked like that. The muntin hasn’t been functional since colonial times, and many historic styles of building used large panes of glass to show off contemporary glass technology. I’ve seen faux colonial windows (with plastic muntins in the glazing cavity) replaced with wooden single panes in an effort to restore architectural character. The new pretending to be old (twenty year old vinyl window pretending to be of colonial glazing technology) had to make way for the new pretending to be old (new wood window pretending to be Victorian glazing technology).

11. Glass

The insulating properties of glass

This experiment of writing a post a day for Michael Sorkin’s laundry list of prerequisites for architects has turned into “how effective is google at answering a particular question”. I can share links explaining how window insulation is measured (on a zero to one scale called u-value aka thermal transmittance). I can link a youtube video showing how glass becomes fiberglass insulation.

Or I can remember having a substitute teacher in fourth grade giving a story time in which she talked about a magazine article she read. We sat around her as she described houses built inside of a greenhouse, with giant oil drums filled with water in between exterior wall and greenhouse wall. She talked about different houses with a greenhouse only on the rear of the house, helping to heat the place and collecting all that hot air in the attic to recirculate through the house. I was captivated, and I can only assume her incredible story telling skills kept the attention of the whole class. Fast forward eight years and I entered a high school design competition run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, and I design the house my fourth grade substitute described:

011 Newhouse 1 011 Newhouse 2 011 Newhouse 3

I don’t have any leads in terms of tracking down that teacher, but her impact was far reaching and greatly appreciated.

9. Rent Subsidy in DC

[How many people receive rent subisidy] in your city (including the rich)?

[A semantic issue: if you rent out a house and the landlord gets tax breaks on their mortgage interest rate is not everyone getting a tertiary/’trickle down’ subsidy, assuming that the cost of financing home ownership gets passed on to tenant?]

I currently live in the District of Columbia. The housing authority (DCHA) has a housing voucher program reaching approximately 10,500 people, with another 20,000 residents in public housing. Groups like Mi Casa and Manna offer affordable home ownership opportunities in the district (full disclosure, I worked at Manna in the past). Rental stabilization (rent control) is run through DHCD and has blanket coverage over rental units with the following exemptions:

  • Federally or District-subsidized
  • Built after 1975
  • Owned by a natural person (i.e., not a corporation) who owns no more than four rental units in the District
  • Vacant when the Act took effect

The ‘built after 1975’ is the real driver of change in the city, as massive amounts of development no longer need comply with rent stabilization. Inclusionary zoning, if you qualify based on your income, offers the opportunity to rent a unit in a new development (post 2007, see GGW for more information on the program).

8. Rent Subsidy

The number of people with rent subsidies in New York City

The Museum of the City of New York had a show over the winter focusing on affordable housing in the city. The show was a rich look at various types of affordable housing projects undertaken in the last 100 or so years. (Coverage of the show can be found here and here.) One wall in particular proclaims “approximately 1 in 8 New Yorkers lives in subsidized housing.” Such a nice round number leaves questions about whether rent controlled units count (maybe?) or if tax breaks on mortgage interest qualifies as state subsidy (probably not for the sake of this exhibit). For some of the complexities of housing supply and affordability I would recommend this article.

7. Hatshepsut’s Temple

Everything possible about Hatshepsut’s temple (try not to see it as ‘modernist’ avant la lettre).

Queen Hatshepsut made the news this week with reports that her impact had been covered up by her successor (stepson); she was a far more prolific builder than previously thought. Sorkin here implores a reading of her namesake temple that does not focus on the fact that it looks like a lot of modernist architecture from the 20th century (Neimeyer’s National Congress in Brasilia, Lincoln Center or Chandigarh). This temple was covered in a first year history class, but those notes are lost to time (or storage). It is primarily composed of three colonnades with two large courts connected by two large ramps (better description here). Aligning with the winter solstice, the interior of the temple acts as a light box shining sunlight upon various statues within the space.

The temple was not intended to be read as a work of pure geometry stripped of most ornament (modernist), but these elements outlasted much of the statue iconography. Later, Greek temples were works of technicolor opulence, only fading to bare marble decades or centuries after the fact. If that colorful paint had stayed, would all the neoclassical government buildings co-opting Grecian architecture (not just in America but the West in general) be just as colorful?