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Tagged with “credit” (3)

  1. 99% Invisible #53: The Xanadu Effect

    What happens when we build big?

    Julia Barton remembers going to the top floor of Dallas’s then-new city hall when she was teenager. The building, designed by I.M. Pei, is a huge trapezoid jutting out over a wide plaza. Julia found the view from the top pretty fantastic, especially when munching on a Caramello bar from the City Hall vending machines.

    But once she went to a protest in the plaza below. And those same windows, now hulking over her, made her feel small, and the whole event insignificant. Texans have a fondness for big structures—big arenas, big houses, big freeways. Julia wasn’t sure if their hidden message wasn’t simply this: I’m important, you’re nobody.

    For people who distrust the big project, Edward Tenner’s 2001 essay “The Xanadu Effect” is some comfort. Tenner, a visiting scholar at Princeton University, ponders the ways in which obsession with bigness can presage hard times for a business or even a nation. Tenner named his essay not for Olivia Newton-John’s anthem or even the Coleridge poem, but for the palace Xanadu built in the movie “Citizen Kane.” That Xanadu, of course, was based on a real-life palace that newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst built in his waning days of empire:

    On its 24,000 acres were a 354,000-gallon swimming pool, a private zoo and four main buildings with a total of 165 rooms. Along with other such extravagances, the estate helped send Hearst into trusteeship late in life. The cavernous halls of Welles’ gloomy cinematic Xanadu seemed to filmgoers — as the real, happier building must have appeared to many Hearst Corp. public investors — the very image of the pride that goes before a fall.

    The downside of the Xanadu Effect has seen itself play out in other places—the Empire State Building, for example, was conceived in the 1920s but completed during the Great Depression, when it was known as “the Empty State Building.” Tenner’s not arguing that big things shouldn’t be built; he’s saying bigness is a gamble. It pays off when it it uplifts people, gives them a sense of grandeur and purpose. It fails when it crushes them or just makes life a pain, as in the big-built city of Moscow, where pedestrians have to scurry under the wide avenues in tunnels:

    (Above: A pedestrian tunnel in Moscow. Credit: Veronica Khokhlova)

    On a recent reporting trip to Russia for PRI’s “The World,” Julia travelled to Sochi, Russia’s southern-most city and upcoming host of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Sochi is Europe’s biggest construction site right now, with Xanadu-like ice-palaces going up right on the Black Sea.

    (Above: Big Ice Palace. Credit: Julia Barton)

    All the construction—including billions of dollars of infrastructure—is good news for the Russian state and shoring up its presence in the Caucasus. It’s not necessarily good news for the locals. Julia interviewed a Sochi resident, Alexei Kravets, who’s been in a stand-off with authorities about the fate of the home he built by the Black Sea.

    (Above: Alexei Kravets. Credit: Julia Barton)

    Kravets’s court case to save his home has been standing in the way of a new railway complex. Construction workers have been throwing rocks through his windows, scraping his walls with backhoes, and hauling away his storage units. Kravets has been confronting them on film:


    It’s a dramatic example of big vs. small, but this type of conflict often happens in the face of massive development. Edward Tenner says beyond just governments or private developers, we all need to think more carefully about the costs and benefits of building big.

    “Bigness is a strategy that just about always fails, unless it succeeds. Or you could say it always succeeds except when it fails. And there really is no one way that you can regard it. You have to see it as a very powerful, easy-to-misuse, but also tempting way to go about things in life,” he says.


    Julia Barton produced another great story from 99% Invisible about the Unsung Icons of Soviet Design. An all-time fav.

    More audio from the Russian protest Julia attended on her own podcast, DTFD.

    Julia’s story for PRI’s The World: Sochi 2014: Building Boom for Winter Olympics Leaves Some Behind

    —Huffduffed by chgroenbech

  2. 99% Invisible #48: The Bathtubs or the Boiler Room

    (Above: The Bather: 1869, by Peter Waddell. “The Senate bathing facility, pictured here, boasted of tubs carved from single blocks of Carrara marble.  Minton tiles covered the floor.  In 1869 a city newspaper published a description of one of these luxurious bathing chambers, noting that ‘when not in use, it is always open to the inspection of visitors.’  Here a senator is surprised by two misinformed visitors.”)

    In 1869, the bathtubs in the basement of the US Capitol building looked something like the painting above. Here they are today:

    (Above: Andrea Seabrook showing us the baths today. Credit: Sam Greenspan)

    The Senate bathing facility has since become a maintenance room—a maintenance room that happens to have a marble bathtub carved from a solid block of Italian marble. Sitting on the steps to one tub is our guide, NPR Congressional Correspondent Andrea Seabrook. In the eight years she’s been reporting on Congress, Andrea has made it a point to get to know the whole Capitol building. “The members of the House Republican Caucus—and sometimes the Democrats—meet in the basement for their closed door secret strategy sessions,” Andrea says. “And it’s really good place to get a tip from members that you know about what’s going on.” One day, after getting the info she needed for her story, she decided to press further on into the depths of the Capitol. “I have this habit of walking into any door that’s unlocked…You start poking around, going into doors…you find the coolest things…”  she says. During one of these explorations, she found the marble bathtubs.

    (Above: Andrea does some fact-checking in the tub. Credit: Sam Greenspan)

    The bathtubs were installed around 1860 during the expansion of the Capitol. DC is known for its swampy summers, and legend has it that senators could be banished from the chamber if they were too smelly. But lawmakers—like most Americans at the time—didn’t have indoor plumbing at home. They needed a place where they could wash up. So, the Architect of the Capitol ordered six marble bath tubs, each three by seven feet and carved by hand in Italy, to be installed in the Capitol basement—three on the House side, three on the senate. Today, only two tubs remain on the Senate side, in a room which now stores the building’s heating and cooling equipment. But evidence of room’s former grandeur remains.

    (Above: The Minton tile has been covered over with gray industrial paint. Credit: Sam Greenspan)

    (Above: Look closely and you can still see the egg-and-dart molding through the tangle of duct work. Credit: Sam Greenspan)

    Web Bonus!

    Sam says: “After exploring the basement, Andrea took me to another hidden part of the Capitol—the attic.  The attic has roof access, which means that it’s been trafficked by decades-worth of Congressional Pages, who are charged with changing the flags that fly over Congress.  And the Pages, like most teenagers, wanted to leave their mark.”

    —Huffduffed by chgroenbech

  3. 99% Invisible #45: Beauty Pill’s Immersive Ideal

    Beauty Pill is band I really like from Washington DC. They have released two EPs (The Cigarette Girl From the Future and You Are Right to be Afraid) and their last album, The Unsustainable Lifestyle, came out in 2004.

    In the interim, the singer/guitarist/producer for Beauty Pill, Chad Clark, got very sick and nearly died. That can be enough to make anyone stop making music, but in Clark’s case, he continued to make music, but he just never felt the need to release a record or play live. His music was just for him and his friends, and that was OK.

    But a strange confluence of opportunity, desire and architecture knocked Beauty Pill out of their unforced exile. The curators at a new multimedia art center called Artisphere invited Chad Clark to come in and do something musical in the space. While they were showing him around, he saw the angled, 2nd floor window overlooking the Black Box Theater and it reminded him of the window in Abbey Road Studio 2, made famous by The Beatles. Months later, the Black Box Theater was transformed into a very public recording studio, capturing the sounds and energy of the band, onlookers and guests over the course of a couple weeks.

    They called the project Immersive Ideal.

    (Above: The fully immersed Beauty Pill. Photo credit: Nestor Diaz)

    WORLD WIDE WEB PREMIERE! Beauty Pill was gracious enough to let us post one of the finished songs from the Immersive Ideal session. The first sound you hear in “Afrikaner Barista” is a metal dogbowl, spinning on Chad’s kitchen floor. This is a recurring texture in the new music. The dogbowl appears in many different forms, often digitally treated to be unrecognizable. “I’m kind of proud of this,” says Chad.

    Beauty Pill finished their experiment in hyper-public music making last summer. Now, they’re putting their entire process—and final product—on display in the very same space where they made their new album. Through Sunday, Jan 22, the Artisphere’s Black Box Theatre is full of images, sounds, and other multimedia wonders in a user-controlled environment. It might very well be the most thoroughly documented presentation of a band’s creative process, ever.

    Sam’s note:

    As a former DC resident, I know that Washingtonians can be loathe to hang out outside the city proper—especially if it’s to go somewhere in Northern Virginia. But think of it this way: Metro’ing down to Rosslyn takes less time than trying to find parking in Adams Morgan. And this is worth it.

    (Above: The control room “window” brought in by Devin Ocampo. Photo credit: Nestor Diaz)

    Other Notes:

    “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” You guys know this quote, right? There’s some debate in house. (I contend the joy garnered by those who recognize offsets the mild confusion experienced by those who don’t.)

    Beauty Pill member Devin Ocampo (also of the awesome Medications and Faraquet (R.I.P.)) provided one of the more talked about aspects of the Artisphere “studio” design. He constructed a wood frame “window” in the lower theater space to separate the musicians from the engineer, referencing the control room glass window that would normally be there.

    I almost named my first radio program “Smart Went Crazy,” which was the name of Chad Clark’s band before Beauty Pill.

    (Above: Chad with guitar. Photo credit: Jon Pack)

    —Huffduffed by chgroenbech