Month: May 2016

36. Vastu Shilpa

Something about Vastu Shilpa

Vastu Shilpa is an architecture firm (VSC) focusing architectural practice, and a foundation (VSF) focusing on research linking the profession and academy. Their firm website (Vastu Shilpa Consultants) shows an entry for the Guggenheim Helsinki competition, and Youtube shows their entry for a new government city in Amaravati, India. The scale and purpose immediately bring Brasilia and Chandigarh, but should also be seen in the context of the two competing master plan schemes from Rogers Stirk Harbour and Maki & Associates.


35. Feng Shui

Something about feng shui

Feng Shui has gone from orthodox principles, with holistic philosophy and worldview to a plural marketplace of ideas as many different schools coexist, to be interpreted by the individual student. This has some parallels to contemporary design schools, two generations removed from the orthodoxy of Modernism and one generation removed from high Post Modernism and Deconstructivist architecture. Today ideology is suspect, and similar formal gestures akin to a former ‘school’ are often dismissed as ‘style’, but elements and strategies from these older movements are freely taken as precedent or guiding logic.

The most compelling explanation comes courtesy of an uncited passage from wikipedia: “Feng Shui may be simply understood as a traditional test of architectural goodness using a collection of metaphors”

The Skeptic’s Dictionary has this summary for feng shui: “Feng shui is related to the very sensible notion that living with rather than against nature benefits both humans and our environment…that our lives are deeply affected by our physical and emotional environs.” and this criticism of its current use/abuse: “Feng shui has become a kind of architectural acupuncture: wizards and magi insert themselves into buildings or landscapes and use their metaphysical sensors to detect the flow of good and bad “energy.” These masters for hire declare where bathrooms should go, which way doorways should face …”

33. Hydrology is destiny

Hydrology is destiny

I’ve written before about topography, but without expanding on the fact that all topography is shaped by plate tectonics and water. Every ridge and valley was carved by rain. Settlement patterns, cultural links, trade have all been shaped by hydrology. Sorkin already mentioned “the rate at which the seas are rising” (#16), and this prompt may simply be reiterating the impact of rising seas.

On the micro scale, ‘hydrology is destiny’ has a different connotation. Moisture in soils freeze and thaw every year, cracking and chipping away at concrete. Moisture attacks steel and rots wood. No engineer ever designs a structure to be ‘permanent’. Everything is slowly degrading – eaten away, mostly by water. Everything is designed to fail in a manageable way.

32. Prevailing Winds

The direction of prevailing winds

Prevailing winds play an important role in siting/orienting a building, as part of a larger effort towards passive cooling. (Taliesin West, in dry hot Scottsdale Arizona, is laid out to catch prevailing wind in an effort at passive cooling. The devoted and zealous disciples/tour guides made many a mention of this fact. For a much more in depth look at that project read this article from Architect Magazine). As for measuring the prevailing winds, using a wind rose allows the direction and speed of wind on any give site to be measured (note- the direction is where the wind is coming from, something I can never keep track of).

31 Mud Construction

The basics of mud construction

Not rammed earth, but mud construction. With all the concern about maintenance and US infrastructure (see John Oliver clip) mud construction offers an interesting solution: make maintenance so involved that it becomes a communal activity (Youtube clip of the film Powaqqatsi). Or, like the Djinbuereber Mosque in Timbuktu, make the scaffold used to perform this frequent maintenance a permanent visual element.

By KaTeznik – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr,

30 Migratory Birds

The migratory patterns of warblers and other seasonal travelers

See an animation of bird migration over Northeastern United States, and a visualization of global bird migration. In Washington DC the City Wildlife organization (independent, no government affiliation) has a ‘Lights Out’ program which tracks and collects birds that crashed into windows and window walls:

“Flocks of birds end up in populous urban environments like Washington dense with glass buildings and towers that pepper the skyline. Frequently, birds are lured by artificial lights or become disoriented by smooth, transparent surfaces and slam right into the glass. Most die on impact; those that are maimed often fade overnight before the Lights Out crew can come to their rescue.”