a. the museum observation. While producing my thesis two years ago I came to a fascinating discovery. Probably the most crucial breakthrough I had over the 18 months. It didn’t derail me down a rabbit hole or convince me I was wasting time, it did quite the opposite. It propelled my research further. While studying museums and what they intangibly produce in the broader context of society, I investigated how they function as an economic generator for the modern city, how the museum typology has changed and why, and how important their impact is as a cultural resource. I had discovered a pattern with the 6 case studies I carefully selected. Each of their respective entry sequences were compared to squeeze out the anomalies or find a formula in the bunch. All of the historic entry sequences were an easy formula to figure out with a dialed in typology. They started in a park-like setting and ventured up some grand staircase, through a colonnade and went from the profane to the sacred as they progressed deeper inside. What had me stop and think was that the modern museum broke from this typology and finished in an ostentatious ‘observation tower’ – an observation tower! This was something new to the research because it was a departure from our entire history of the museum and what we had all known about the museum. This was a tangible manifestation of the intangible impact it was having on the city and how it had been leveraged as a money maker for developing higher value.
The observation tower was studied like every good architecture student studies any tower – through the panopticon – extensively written about by Foucault for its power giving properties and the obedience it can instill over people. I have been thinking about the tower again as I am working on a tower residence for a current client. It is a modern barn house in typology and aesthetic, but I think it is one of many. A kind of resurgence is happening in the west where ranch styles are less popular than in the south or midwest. There is a fascination with anything foreign and half way across the states is a good distance for Seattlites to become enthralled by what is foreign.
b. the fire tower. Not being a native, I am especially enamored with the fire towers in the PNW that you can hike up to and stay in on a first-come-first-serve basis. They are perched atop mountains, decommissioned from their past purpose, “devastating fires, such as the Yacolt Burn of 1902, inspired the construction of a vast National network of fire lookout stations in the 1920s. The job of a lookout was to spot and report fires by telephone or radio so crews could be dispatched quickly. At the system’s peak, there were 5,000 lookouts nationwide—including 685 overlooking the extensive forests of Washington.” Doesn’t this get you excited to explore all of them that still exist? This summer will include many a hike to stay in one of these beautifully eerie and isolated cabins:
c. the silo. I was further taken down the rabbit hole by a friend of mine, Clark Thenhaus, who did a theoretical project in grain silos called Star Gardens with his firm Endemic. This is also strangely exploritory of the same nature – what lies beyond and what is whimsical being so high off the ground and so mysterious.
After studying in Colorado, I became familiar with the granaries that dot the highway landscapes as a nod to industrialization of agriculture. Usually they sit adjacent to their early counterparts: the old grain elevator and weigh station by the train tracks. These silos typically have a lookout platform for maintenance of the grain conveyer belts that move grain up and down and around to their compartments and loading onto trucks.
d. futurismo sketches. We can’t talk about towers without mentioning Tatlin’s theoretical project for Russia in the 1930s that never came to fruition. What makes it an enigma is that the real thing only lives in a sketch. There have been copies built to honor the image that in the sketch, but this sadly conjours a longing for the real thing. It’s the eternally short song that needs to go on forever, but can’t because it just is that 90 seconds. That’s all you get. The sketch is intelligent, revealing the author’s national pride and the political turmoil of the time, all in the black ink.
Even Dan Flavin, the avant guard artist who is known for his florescent tube sculptures and for being Donald Judd’s right-hand man, made a memorial to the Tatlin tower in this beautiful ‘Monument’ piece from 1966:
e. wedding cakes. And I digress, but in the best way possible. The wedding cake towers now so normal, but when you step out of context, so unnecessary? No, they are totally worth the visual I am able to provide for this post and serve their purpose for the discussion. In fact, they are worth it alone for the icon and for the eye candy. They are worth it for the delight they bring me in just looking at them in relation to this post. How rare you get to see one and how perfectly they fold into the story! This has come to be a tradition and will continue to be a tradition for the power it holds in the form, in the massing.
Something so small and so simple in concept can bring such delight – this is my mission as an architect.