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The Heart and Soul of Buildings: Architecture as Experience

0d6d80f68c0b625a9730654d355e5863This month, we’re focusing on the experience of architecture. We welcome our special guest blogger, architectural historian John Kriskiewicz, Assoc. AIA, who takes us on a journey through two iconic New York buildings to illustrate his views on “architecture as experience.” 

A native New Yorker, John holds a professional degree in architecture from Pratt Institute and is a board member of DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State.  Over the past two decades, he has taught courses focused on architectural and planning history at Parsons School of Design, The Cooper Union, Fashion Institute of Technology, Stern College for Women, and Manhattan College, while designing tour programs and lectures for many of New York City’s institutions and corporations. His many exhibitions and articles have revealed history and preservation issues to a broad audience. John admits to a special affinity for New York’s extensive infrastructure, as well as its Mid-Century Modern heritage.

“When I enter a dwelling, I experience atmospheres one after the other – sequences of light and shade, of narrowness and space. There is a scenography, a dramatic structure for the space. Architecture is great cinema.We design buildings like films, whose power lies in leading us through worlds and catching hold of our emotions.”  – Architect Thomas Willemeit of the Berlin-LA-Beijing firm Graft , 2015

The importance of scenography and sequence was understood by architects trained according to Beaux-Arts philosophies at the end of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. They knew this carefully choreographed procession through space as “marche”, the French verb “to walk”.

“Marche” is the sequence we experience at Carrère and Hastings’s New York Public Library of 1911 on Fifth Avenue.

Ascending a set of broad stone stairs, from the level of the sidewalk, to a spacious terrace, we are encouraged to pause a moment to take in our surroundings, just above the heads of the crowds on the avenue behind us. In front of us, we survey a wide, white marble façade. The triple arched entry beckons us forward, up a higher set of white marble stairs, to the entrance portico. Here we are in transition, neither quite inside nor out. Through a low bronze door we are compressed for a moment, then we are released into an eruption of space. Surrounded by creamy white marble lit by both electric and natural light that pulls us ever upwards, towards the vast reading room. This most spacious, brightest, most elaborate public space, is the heart and soul of the building.

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Through this choreographed sequence of spaces, materials, and light, we’ve made a journey from the quotidian, into the realm of the intellect. An architectural metaphor for the process of enlightenment.

Often, the most dispiriting of architectural experiences is air travel. Eero Saarinen’s whimsical 1962 Trans World Airlines Flight Center, now part of Jet Blue’s Terminal 5 at Kennedy International Airport reminds us of a different era. In his words,

We wanted passengers passing through the building to experience a fully-designed environment in which each part arises from another and everything belongs to the same formal world.”

Saarinen’s concept, provided the passenger with a similar journey from the everyday into the glamorous world of air travel. A “jet-age” reinterpretation of “marche”.

For this example I must revert to the past tense. There are plans, however, that may allow us to experience what was, once more.

New York International Airport at Idlewild, planned by architect Wallace Harrison as “Terminal City”, placed TWA at a prominent bend along the circumferential roadway.

Designed to be experienced first through the windshield of a private automobile or taxi, this location was critical to the initial experience. Like the Beaux-Arts Public Library on its broad terrace, we are given the opportunity to comprehend the whole from the roadway before we enter. The building’s iconic silhouette was both a progressive corporate symbol and widely understood metaphor for flight.

If architecture is “frozen music”, TWA is Bossa Nova. Like that lyrical fusion of samba and jazz, TWA is smooth, sensual, expressive and Modern. Thin shell concrete, sinuously forms a porte coche, as we stepped from the car. Through glass automatic doors into a day lit, sculptural space, matte white circular tiles grew into fantastic forms; bridges, terraces, reception desks, arrival and departure boards. Up a half flight to a “TWA red” carpeted terrace. There, a sunken, red upholstered seating area where we could pause to survey a panorama of jet craft, through a broad, curved glass wall.

No need to descend to the tarmac to then climb up a rolling stair to the entry door of the plane, like all other terminals of the day. Instead, we walked from the daylight of the terminal terrace through white tubes awash with a luminescence whose source is hidden beneath the crimson carpeted paths. Gradually ascending, our destination was momentarily hidden by the arch of the tube, and then revealed: the “flight wing”. Here once again, daylight poured through glass walls and “jetways” connected directly to the aircraft.

From automobile drop off to aircraft, a seamless journey, made memorable by attention throughout to space, form, color, material.

From different eras, designed for different functions, yet The New York Public Library and The TWA Flight Center share that unmistakable, memorable quality of architecture as experience.

Resolve to #WriteBetter: Writing for Different Formats

playing_with_letter_clothespinIt’s the end of January, which means you’ve already lost your holiday weight (and more) by sticking to your New Years’ resolution, right?

Don’t worry if you’ve fallen off the wagon – we won’t judge you. But we WILL judge you by your writing! In particular, because this month we have given you the resources you need to #WriteBetter.

We’ve outlined our top five writing pet peeves and our top five style secrets. In our third and final post this month, we have some tips on how you can write well for different formats.

Today, we are equipped with more communications channels than ever before. It can be overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to be! Just lift your head out from under that snowstorm of tweets, texts, e-mails, blog posts, short articles, long articles, slideshows, photo captions, and status updates, and use these tips as a guide.

1. Tweets: A lot of people are nervous about getting started on Twitter, because they aren’t sure how it works. Just like eating an apple, we suggest you start by tweeting once a day, every day, and go from there.

A good tweet has four components: a link to an interesting news article or website; a short intro to the article that gives it context and intrigues your followers to click; a mention of another user related to the article (often the writer or the publication); a hashtag (#) that expresses something about the article or connects it to a larger trend.

We’re sticklers when it comes to correct grammar in traditional formats. On Twitter, though, because of space limitations, we think it’s acceptable to abbreviate words that are less important. We still suggest you avoid abbreviations when tweeting, unless absolutely necessary.

2. Status updates: Updating Facebook or LinkedIn to share company news? Complete sentences and correct grammar are a must. We suggest you include a link to make an update more interactive. Come up with two to five sentences about the topic and end with a question that will encourage dialogue.

3. E-mails: Read them over before you press send! Make sure that what you’ve written can’t be misinterpreted by your recipient. Be clear, polite, and to the point.

4. Blog posts: Blog posts shouldn’t exceed 300 to 400 words. They are meant to be digested in a single sitting, like a snack. Your tone should be engaging and conversational.

5. Articles: If you’re writing an article for an outside publication, whether print or online, get editorial guidelines from the publication before you start writing. Let these govern the article’s style and parameters. Each publication is different, and you’ll want to make sure you’ve tailored your piece to its audience and its needs.

Have a great 2014, and write on!

Posted by Beth Connolly

Resolve to #WriteBetter: Hausman’s Five Style Secrets

Slide1It’s a new year, so it’s time to kick your bad habits to the curb. We suggest you free yourself from your unhealthy dependence on poor writing and resolve to #WriteBetter in 2014! We’re here to help you out with our top five style secrets. (Click here for a list of our top five writing pet peeves.)

Read on to get 2014 off to the “write” start!

1. Shorter is sweeter.

Wordy writing is hard to understand. Keep your sentences clean, crisp, and clear. If a sentence takes up three lines of text, break it in half. Likewise, paragraphs longer than six sentences can be intimidating. Break them up, but maintain a logical structure. Remove any information that isn’t directly related to the focus of your paragraph or article. If you can get your point across in 300 words, don’t say it in 600.

2. “Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!”

Henry David Thoreau said it best in his treatise on living with purpose, Walden. Avoid the temptation to puff up your writing with unnecessarily complicated words or complex sentences. If your reader has to re-read each sentence two to three times, you are not doing your job right! Be prepared to revise your draft several times in order to create simple writing that isn’t simplistic.

3. Subdivide and conquer.

You don’t need to rely on fancy words to give your work pizzazz. Especially in a longer piece, divide your text into sections and open each with a relevant, eye-catching heading. This piques your reader’s interest and helps her identify your key points.

4. Take a stand.

Why say that something “seems to be” when you really think it “is”? Why say something “may have been” when you believe it “was”? Make statements with conviction, and back them up with evidence. Your writing will benefit. If you’re not convinced, take a look at this video:

5. “Precision is next to godliness.”

So said playwright Samuel Beckett, who understood the relationship between meaning and absurdity. It takes extra effort to be specific in your writing, rather than rely on vague generalities and buzzwords. But if you fail to be specific, your written work won’t contribute anything of value. In this social media age, we live in an echo chamber, where “writers” throw euphemisms and empty catchphrases back and forth at each other, accomplishing exactly nothing. Push yourself to say what you really mean, and your work will be memorable.

Implement these five secrets in your next piece of writing and let us know if they help you #WriteBetter!

Posted by Beth Connolly

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