I just came back from a trip to New York, got some great reading done, and had an infrastructural safari in Manhattanville. I’ll talk about these in good time, but for now I want to continue my tradition of talking about things that happened months ago.
Back in late February, I went to see Joanna Newsom at the 6th&I Historic Synagogue, and you know, the word “awesome” is really overused these days. It was awesome. You can also read NOMOFOMO’s coverage of the event, which was actually written around the time of the concert.
In the time since then NPR covered and recorded the entire show. If you have a little over and hour, you can listen (fixed so the link works now), and for the good of your soul, you should take the time.
Now, many people find her voice to be skreetchy, generally because most people gave up after her first album, and I can’t necessarily blame them. But her voice has mellowed without losing any of the color or expressiveness that she always had. It may have gotten better, in fact. As an example, check out the album version of Inflammatory Writ, a song I used to find unlistenable:
I mentioned Sam West, auteur and gentleman scoundrel, once before. A graduate of the prestigious Janney Elementary School, a couple years back, he produced this film called Sand Moon, which is embedded below.
It’s a sort of tale of karma passed through the lens of Upper Northwest slackers. Produced in 72 hours in 2008, is also a showcase of DC’s highlights, such as the roof of the Tenleytown CVS, truck barrier planters, Mazza Galerie, the Chevy Chase Starbucks, and Potomac Video.
One: First, let’s start with what’s in the room. My friend Anna at NOMOFOMO informed me of the publishing of a rather serious book about John Cage’s rather infamous piece 4’33”. The plainly titled book, it turns out, is by Kyle Gann, probably one of the most famous people ever driven off of Wikipedia. Hopefully the book will cool some of the really obnoxious commentary that trots its tired ass out whenever you mention the piece. On a related note, I was at the Smithsonian American Art Museum when some man wearing a North Face vest walked into the room with his brood and began ridiculing the works as “The Painter who Couldn’t draw curves, The Painter who Couldn’t Draw Faces, the Painter Who Didn’t Care,” repeated smugly for several minutes. Unfortunately for his smugness, we were in a gallery entitled, GRAPHIC MASTERS III. There were no paintings so … no painters either, boss.
Two: Anyway, over in my neighborhood, Richard Layman wrote a simple piece in regard to the recent efforts to build a streetcar on Wisconsin Avenue – and the consequent vicious opposition. The arguments are not that new, but he does break down the current bogeyman that guided transit will be hopelessly snarled up by obstructions. His point: it happens more often on highways, and can be minimized with design. On that note, and getting much bigger (153 comments at writing), is the thread on DCMud about the Safegate Pause.
Three: Moving out to the general idea of the neighborhood, Kaid Benfield penned a remarkably concise and thoughtful definition of Transit-Oriented Development. He emphasizes the oriented part, making the point that it’s the way the neighborhood and buildings facilitate transit use and walkability that is most important. It’s worth a read.
Four: Getting a lot bigger, Mammoth covers mammothly (as they promised) the best architecture of the decade. Unlike so many lists of flashy blingitechture and navelgazing critiques of said blingitechture and excess, the list contains projects emblematic of new directions in architecture. Included is the Large Hadron Collider, cheap manifest-traditional housing, Chinese High Speed Rail, geoengineering, and using good design to recover from years of terror. After reading it, I feel like calling this next decade for Latin America.
Five: Finally, getting into centuries and abstract ideas, Kirk Savage will be doing a live chat tomorrow on Greater Washington. Savage is the author ofMonument Wars and Standing Soldiers Kneeling Slaves. The latter book is about the depiction of slavery in public art. The former traces the role of the monument in America over two hundred years as the changes played out in Washington, DC. I’m only about halfway through the book, but it is really good. He puts an impressive amount of information about monuments, memory, and architecture into a genuinely enjoyable read. I don’t have enough thoughts at the moment, but there will be more coming from it.
Until 1 PM Tuesday, you can always submit questions at this page, and I’ll let you go with some bonus Eames:
Today, the Sapsan high-speed rail service began running between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. The two cities are about 400 miles from each other, and the 3 hour, 45 minute trip costs around $95. To go from DC to Boston (around the same distance) it takes six and a half hours and costs $200. Awesome. Anyway, trains go 155mph now, but could be upgraded to 200 if conditions make it feasible in the future.
The trainsets were designed and built by Siemens in Germany based on the ICE III trainsets for Deutsche Bahn. The thing is that it’s much colder in Russia, and the tracks are significantly wider. So the trains are hardened against cold and snow and their frames are built out to meet the invasion-proof Russian gauge. Although I think they look pretty damn sweet, I would like it if they had painted them with the safety orange detailing that’s been standard on elektrichkas for a while.
Russian Railroads, the state-ish rail corporation has been upgrading the century-old route for high-speed service for almost a decade, so it’s been a pretty exciting time there. Even Google is in on it. This notwithstanding the recent bombing of the service the Sapsan will replace, the Nevsky Express. Eventually, it will also reach Helsinki and Nizhny Novgorod, a city that is a lot like the Chicago Philadelphia of Russia, except that nobody outside of Russia seems to know it exists.
Anyway, it adds to the amusingly diverse options for travel in the former Soviet Union. Here’s a video about the train that makes international trade deals sound awesome.
I just saw these two things last night and thought they were impressive enough about what is possible with some elbow grease, a Ph.D, and a few billion dollars. So learn what it’s like to stand on the top of the Burj Dubai: It’s wobbly and tall. And it warms my heart to the hellhole that is Dubai. (gizmodo)
Closer to home, DARPA is paying the University of Maryland to weaponize maple seeds or samaras. That might seem insane, but watch the whole video to see what 3 years of research on single-wing rotary aircraft can get you. Go terps!? (hackaday)
Don’t get “samara” confused with the city in Russia, or samsara, or you may experience endless cycles of misunderstanding.
I was walking home late tonight, passing through Archibold-Glover Park, a car sped by me, all lights and noise. In the silence after it had passed by, I briefly heard the trickle of Foundry Branch. It reminded me of Ёжик. Then the moment too passed.
Metropolis ran an article online discussing the unorthodox business model the firm Delle Valle Bernheimer employs. They have begun integrating development into their portfolio, realizing that controlling all elements of a project essentially cuts a lot of inefficiency from the process of getting something you care about built. In addition to giving them a high degree of control in regards to design and quality, it tempered their exuberance by bringing issues of engineering, cost, budgeting, and dealing with problems into their realm, on their bottom line. Their strategy is not new – it’s a standard practice called design-build-operate/maintain – but this is one of the first boutique architecture firms to employ it.
But back wen DB were just getting started, a depraved genius named Zak Smith managed to produce illustrations of each page of the book Gravity’s Rainbow. Somehow, he managed to sit down and produce 760 works of art, in multiple media, depicting pretty much everything that happens in the book, in some way or another. I haven’t had a look at the whole thing, but the sheer amount of creativity would make an edition of Thomas Pynchon’s book with these drawings a worthwhile purchase.
The Fojol Brothers of Merlindia, a quartet of locally grown twentysomethings with a secret indian chef, are out to revolutionize the street food scene in DC. Along with Ali Baba’s, and the upcoming Sweetflow truck, they’re up against DC’s longstanding tradition of awful, awful street vendors. As one (I think it was Ababa-Du) told me, “All you get in DC is hot dogs and soda … yeah and awful pretzels.” Awful pretzels indeed, and without dijon. Running only on Fridays and Saturdays, all of the members do this in addition to regular jobs and apparently are willing to sacrifice their weekends to bring their traveling culinary carnival to DC.
Their total aesthetic is a retro fusion of Indian with hip green techno, employing fake mustaches and turbans while they cruise around in a 1960s bread truck. Their trays are made out of sugar cane fibers, their sporks from corn resin, and they compost just about everything else. All of this half-ironic campiness and doo-goodery could be a pretty lame excuse for attention, were it not executed with such batty genius – and more importantly, if their food wasn’t so good.
It can’t be stressed enough that the food is delicious, basic Indian food. Fretting about authenticity of cuisine is always a bit misplaced, but with complex food from a made-up place, you should just shut up and eat. I had the chicken masala, a pumpkin side, and some sweet sticks. The chicken was a moderately spicy dish that satisfies like any indian food with sauce, while the pumpkin was soft and delicious, with a heavy dose of cardamom that balanced the sweetness of the fruit itself. The sweet sticks were not so much sweet as they were flavored with cumin and maybe allspice, which made them pretty good for cleaning out the lingering masala spices.
As I sat there eating, I watched the stream of buttoned-down passers-by giving long, curious looks and other people lingering and plenty eating. It’s never going to be like New York, with its hour-long waits at 53rd & 6th chicken and rice, the ultimate drunk food that is Roti Roll, or the Vendy awards, but this little performance-food experiment is definitely a good thing, and hopefully a sign of things to come.
Watch Mr. Samuel T. West, local legend and gentleman scoundrel, skewer the concept of a PR videoblog by talking about nothing for 7 minutes.
You might also want to check out his film productions at Cocaine in Motion, particularly their Sand Moon movie (not really funny). They also have some amazing parables on Youtube. They feature the Methodist Cemetery and Fort Reno in a number of flicks.