Cloud Constructor

375831pu[Image: An airplane hangar in Utah, via the U.S. Library of Congress].

Another book I read while jet-lagged in London last week was Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot by Mark Vanhoenacker; its chapter “Wayfinding” is particularly fascinating and worth seeking out.

375827pu[Image: Interior view of same hangar, via U.S. Library of Congress].

The previous post here, however, mentioned 19th-century cloud chambers, and I was accordingly struck by a quick line in Vanhoenacker’s book. At one point, he describes the construction of airplane bodies inside sprawling factory buildings, whose contained volumes of air are so enormous they can generate their own weather. They are internal skies.

“Some airplane factories are so large,” he writes, “that clouds once formed inside them, a foreshadowing of the sky to come for each newborn jet.”

375829pu[Image: Utah airplane hangar, via U.S. Library of Congress].

Of course, other megastructures are also known to produce internal precipitation. NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral “is the second largest building (by volume) in the world,” for example, “and it even has its own weather inside—NASA employees report that rain clouds form below the ceiling on very humid days.”

And, as architecture writers like David Gissen and Sean Lally have compellingly shown, architecture—in and of itself—has, in a sense, always been a kind of applied atmospheric design, with buildings defined as much by temperature, barometry, and humidity as they are by walls and ceilings.

But I nevertheless love the idea of aircraft assembly and repair occurring amidst inadvertent simulations of the sky to come, as dew points are crossed, condensation begins, and internal weather fronts blurrily amass above the wings of dormant airplanes, as if conjured there in a dream.


[Image: From Pierre Huyghe, “Les grandes ensembles” (2001)].

A short news items in New Scientist this week describes the work of University of Michigan engineers who have developed a way to, in effect, synchronize architectural structures at a distance. They refer to this as “ghosting”:

When someone turns the lights on in one kitchen, they automatically switch on in the connected house. Sounds are picked up and relayed, too. Engineers at the University of Michigan successfully linked an apartment in Michigan with one in Maryland. The work was presented at the IoT-App conference in Seoul, South Korea, last week.

I haven’t found any more details about the project—including why, exactly, one would want to do this, other than perhaps to create some strange new electrical variation on “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” where a secret reference-apartment is kept burning away somewhere in the American night—but no doubt more info will come to light soon.*

*Update: Such as right now: here is the original paper. There, we read the following:

Ghosting synchronizes audio and lighting between two homes on a room-by-room basis. Microphones in each room transmit audio to the corresponding room in the other home, unifying the ambient sound domains of the two homes. For example, a user cooking in their kitchen transmits sounds out of speakers in the other user’s own kitchen. The lighting context in corresponding rooms is also synchronized. A light toggled in one house toggles the lights in the other house in real time. We claim that this system allows for casual interactions that feel natural and intimate because they share context and require less social effort than a teleconference or phone call.

Thanks to Nick Arvin, both for finding the paper and for highlighting that particular quotation.

In a Pinch

[Image: A staircase in the Grands Magasins Dufayel; view larger].

The second staircase I wanted to post today—here’s the first—is from the Grands Magasins Dufayel, a vast, 19th-century department store in Paris. View it larger.

Aside from the obvious grandeur of the structure, what makes this spatially noteworthy is the fact that one floor is pinched together with the next, and that the self-supporting “pinch” that results then becomes formalized as a stairway, a hyperbolic object in space that allows passage from one level to the next.

It’s as if a loop has been pulled or extracted from each level and then woven together—in effect, using a self-intersecting geometric pattern as the basis of a floorplan.

In any case, what I like in both examples (this one and the previous staircase), is that you have two floors or levels, obviously, but then there is the emptiness that separates them, a gap buzzing with unrealized forms of connection, and that you can fill that gap with pinches, spirals, knots, and loops, and that the magic of a well-designed staircase is precisely in giving material form to the invisible math that hovers in the space between floors.

(Originally spotted via ARCHI/MAPS).

Solved by Knots

[Image: Stairs inside the New York Life Insurance building, Minneapolis, by Babb, Cook and Willard; view larger].

There are two stairways I wanted to post, as they each solve the problem of getting from one floor to another in a particularly interesting way. The first example, seen above, is from the New York Life Insurance building in Minneapolis, Minnesota, designed by Babb, Cook and Willard.

View it larger.

What I love about this is incredibly simple, and it’s nothing more than the fact that a constrained approach from one floor to the next—with the far wall serving almost more like a cliff face—gave the architects no real room to operate. So they put in two, mirror-image spiral stairways, which kept the center of the room clear while dramatically increasing its available circulation space.

Today, of course, we’d probably just stick an elevator there and be done with it—but the compression of space made possible by spiral staircases is amazing. They are elegant prosthetics, connecting two levels like a casual afterthought with their efficient knots and coils.

Here’s the second staircase.

(Spotted via the always interesting ARCHI/MAPS).