Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Vegas Baby! Vegas! Part II

We got back from another trip to Sin City ! This time we stayed at the legendary Sahara Hotel. As part of my continuing exploration of "Vintage" Vegas I excitedly visited this property founded in 1952. Of course like most strip hotels there is nothing left of the original hotel. But they have begun marketing the nostalgia of the place, which of course usually means the wrecking ball is not too far away. The "legendary" Stardust got the nostalgic treatment the year prior to being imploded. But back to the Sahara, large photo murals of the property in glorious black and white line the halls of this otherwise inoffensive structure loosely inspired by North Africa. The exterior of several of the hotel towers show some midcentury charm , including some nifty concrete cantielevered sunscreens and interesting penthouses. For the most part though it is a fairly standard big hotel, with ordinary slightly comfortable rooms. We stayed on the 21st floor with a view of a lot of condos going up, including TRUMP Las Vegas; a tacky bronze box with giant gold roman letters on top. I am reminded of Donald Trump's retooling of the Conan O'brien show where the entire show was plated in bronze, the set, the characters, everything, even the host.

Took another trip to Fremont Street, see Vegas Baby! Vegas! Part I. And we spent some time at Star Trek: The Experience. I am a huge Trekkie and find moments of this attraction thrilling, others disapointing. We arrived too late to see the History of the Future Museum, or to go on the rides, but we had dinner at Quark's, and did some shopping at what used to be the Deep Space Nine Promenade. The fake second story has been enclosed and is now a function room for the what must be the booming themed Star Trek Wedding business they do. So now the "Promenade" lacks it's viewports and balcony ; replaced with a poorly plastered dropped ceiling. The walking characters are fun and try earnestly to stay in character. The huge models overhead are a treat, and the merchandise is fun. Every Trekker seems to walk out of there with a large bag of loot; rumors since it was built some 10 years or so ago are always that is about to close, but employees denied it. The shops have lost some of their luster but let's face it Star Trek is in a bit of a holding pattern right now. Things might look up next year with the new movie. When first built the attraction was built on a Next Generation/24th century foundation but it is interesting to note in Star Trek: The Next Generation's 20th anniversary year that The Original Series Merchandise out numbers anything else and sells better too. Classic Trek seems to have a staying power that the 24th Century is lacking.

Of Course maybe time will reverse this; Star Trek: The Next Generation wore out it's welcome with a series of lackluster feature films, and 18 years of constant production is bound to wear out most audiences. Maybe time and nostalgia by those who grew up with the sequel/prequel shows might propel a future revival. I think with the shear amount of films and television there is going to be a tremendous amount of good entertainment, and plenty of turkeys too. Overall I am a fan, and enjoy even the worst Star Trek sequel/prequel episodes, but "my heart yearns for starflight" that of the Original Series.

Friday, October 26, 2007

On the drawing board...

I have a commission for a series of interventions on a 23 year old estate in the Old Las Palmas neighborhood in Palm Springs. My clients are re-imagining the modern/post-modern house and have tried to unleash it's inner pure modern side while expunging the post-modern elements. I have a couple of sketches here for a pavillion in the garden. This is an exciting small scale design that has a long architectural tradition. The folly in the garden was a popular motiff of English neo-classicism as well among the staples of Palladian renaissance architecture. Here the modern language of the house is combined with this neo-classical tradition as well as with the abstract planar language of modern architecture. Eight pillars support a slab at the midpoint of each pillar, the entire composition sheathed in white smooth troweled stucco. To contrast with the stark lines and lack of texture a handmade crystal chandelier is suspended from the center. The only imprecise shape, surface and texture of the project. It is a simle, elegant composition for admiring the surrounding garden, adjacent pool and the distant vista of the borrowed landscape of the neighboring properties.

I am a Modernist, I don't see my work as the beginning of history and I am not reinventing the wheel. I devour books on modernism. I study the masters, how did they use the common materials around them to compose space, structure, and shape. I apply the lessons I have learned to the contemporary problem at hand. My designs are the interaction of planes in juxtaposition to each other to define space. The precisioned geometric plane is shorthand for the mastery of nature that is unique to man. It is the abstract language of the architect's tools, It is an outgrowth of simple construction. Wood stud, concrete block, stucco, this is the language of most California construction; it is the tradition I work with and within the skill level of most competent constructors.

I say this because we are in the midst of a revival that is rarely being acknowledged as a revival, there seem to be several camps on the issue, some try to distance themselves from the source of their forms. Their compositions are new, unique, dynamic, etc. but the form language is from a specific period of the past, specifically 20th century modernism, or mid-century modernism if you prefer. Designers will either say the are engaging in nostalgia, or they will try to deny any connection to the historical trend, typically they may engage in distancing themselves through declarations that sound like "my designs are an independent response to specific parameters, I am not a modernist, I am not reusing designs from the past,"etc. I think there is some truth to that but I don't see the need for the distance. I do not borrow/steal designs, re-hash, or engage in nostalgia, as I have said before I acknowledge precedent and try to apply infered lessons to a present problem.

I find it important to recognize that, even if it is unpopular, but I will admit it has gotten me into trouble. There is no visible reward to being transparent about your methodology, people want to think you are looking at history a new with every design, at least to pay lip service to that heroic artist ideal. I presented a design to a client once complete with a design statement that acknowledged my influences, the project was shot down for being too retro, Using the same design methodology I presented a similar project without acknowledging my influences and It was welcomed as being fresh. It was the same journey that brought me to two different places. Needless to say I don't connect the dots for people anymore, maybe that is what others do as well, but on my forum I want to share with my 2 readers the truth.