Anniversary of the Tokobashira

In this designated time of reflecting on our blessings and acknowledging our gratitude, we’re thankful for wonderful clients that allow us the opportunity to get our hands dirty…

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The tokobashira (rough hewn column on the right) has a little story behind it

Many years ago, today, Elizabeth and I were finishing up a walk in the woods with a specific purpose, beyond taking in the crisp air and thinning foliage of late fall in Northern Michigan. It was our Thanksgiving break, and after unsuccessfully attempting to procure either product or supplier of the correct size of tokobashira for a project she had designed and we had under construction, we decided we must procure one personally for our client.

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Elizabeth selecting the finalists…

Disappointed that we hadn’t found anything suitable in the woods, we were passing through a parking lot adjacent to the burgeoning Village at Grand Traverse Commons (converted from the old Kirkbride facility – more on that in another post) and, quite fortunately, happened upon this pile of logs prepared for the oven of the local bakery – Pleasanton (their chocolate pistachio croissant is beyond compare!).

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The Finalists

Enquiring inside if we might purchase a branch, we were told that if we only needed one it was “gratis” – so we gratefully pulled a few for comparison and sent photos to our client. He liked one best, and we loaded it into the ol’ SUV and brought it back to Chicago. Intended for the salient corner of a bookshelf, it needed a few specific characteristics, including diameter and shape.

 

After some requisite curing and a dry fit to make sure the bends and crooks lined up, we instructed the contractor to prepare the tokobashira in the traditional way, scraping to a smooth surface, and had them stain to match the rest of our design.

 

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Notching into the salient corner of the bookshelf
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The tokobashira slotting into the shelves near the pocket door

The result in the end is not only a story worth sharing, but the perfect complement to the room. In this designated time of reflecting on our blessings and acknowledging our gratitude, we’re grateful for generous bakeries (Pleasanton has become a fixture in our Traverse City visits!); we’re extremely thankful for wonderful clients that allow us the opportunity to design outside the typical traditional bounds and, in some cases, even get our hands dirty in order to bring a fun idea to life; and we hope your blessings are easy to count.

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Urbanism To Me

Urbanism is people-watching. Urbanism is walking the dog at night. Waiting for the bus in the rain, comparing boots and disliking umbrellas.  Streets with or without cars; paths for wheels; sidewalks for eating, or shopping, or strolling. Bundling the baby in a stroller to get to daycare on cold mornings.  Riding the train to work.  City living and dreaming of owning a yard.  Visiting relatives in the suburbs to remember it’s not worth the yard. Traveling and walking, walking, and more walking.  Skyscraper views out the window, due South.  Baseball park views due North.  Fire-escape gardens and neighborly noises.  Studying strangers on the street corner. Calculating the groceries that fit in one backpack and 4 reusables bags. Anonymity amongst familiar crowds. Parallel parking and paying to park. Big parks, small playlots, and potted plants. Towers with elevators, third floor walk-ups, carriage units, roommates in houses with envious gardens, and double-loaded corridors. I’ve had the great fortune to experience life from all of these perspectives, which has catalyzed the urbanist in me. I’d love to know, what is your urbanism?

Submitted by JS ::: This is the first in a series of short posts that intend to further shed light on each of our interests.

Things Are Looking Up With Stile Liberty!

Two years ago, E and I had the great fortune of spending a month in northern Italy taking in the Stile Liberty masterpieces there, as well as many of the anonymous-but-still-magnificent fabric buildings that fill the cities we visited. Our primary method of transportation was the original one: walking. In doing so, not only did we attempt to destroy ligaments and tendons, and in the case of E, discover old-but-previously-unknown sports injuries, but we also had an opportunity to observe architecture from all distances and at nearly every scale.

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What became more and more apparent  to us was the disappointing lack of scale and depth that contemporary architecture utilizes. Or more accurately, ignores. As we power-viewed block after block, mile after mile, in complete agony and ecstasy, we were shocked and appalled at how mundane and banal contemporary architecture has become. Mind you, this shock was not because of what we were seeing, but rather, we were comparing architecture seen here to what we know and experience in other environs. (More on that “knowing” in another post).

The Stile Liberty, Stile Floreale, or Italian Art Nouveau is an extension of the Classical Tradition and as such we were viewing the progression of the “humanist” architecture, frozen in that moment in time. And the details were so sumptuous, so supple, that the only way to describe it really is through metaphor: what we saw and experienced in artistic detail on buildings 100+ years old, is the functional equivalent of finding a computer in an archeological dig.

Let me explain that a little better: Given what we know now about how architecture and urbanism affect our daily existence, THIS kind of architecture and detail might as well be from the future. By that I mean, IF buildings are designed to maximize the human experience and promote health and welfare (AS THEY SHOULD BE), and given what we now know about the way our built environment impacts us, architecture going forward from this knowledge, that is to say architecture of the FUTURE, would be designed following the details seen here, from the PAST. And so finding these buildings in neighborhoods over 100 years old, is the equivalent of finding something futuristic, or more accurately, designed to help humans in the future, in an archeological dig.

I have always been aware of the lack of detail, the lack of depth, the lack of scale in contemporary architecture. Hell, I think everyone is to a certain extent, while not always able to put a finger on it. But these beauties made it all more depressingly conspicuous – what with how they all contribute to the built environment, all work to celebrate their place, and all add visual delight to users and passers-by. All replete with architectural ornament.

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After marking the “must see” buildings, we would take a cab or public transit to the most remote mark on the map (at least remote from our hotel) and begin walking back. What happened though, which wasn’t expected, was that we were continually drawn down streets and around corners by a glimpse of something great. Before long, it became a game between us to find the most interesting architecture first, but part of the fun was that it seemed impossible. We were constantly finding something new and interesting. CONSTANTLY.

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More to the point (of this article at least), it wasn’t just a matter of being drawn down the street and then doing the dance of trying to capture as much of the building’s facade as possible in a single photo while negotiating traffic, locals, parked cars, dog shit, and street poles or lamps. After getting the “overall” shot, I was continually and inevitably testing the patience of E drawn across the street right up to the face of the building by some element or another, and what I discovered in those moments is what you see in these photos. It gave me the chance, or perhaps the eyes, to contemplate the elements that make the difference between good architecture and bad architecture so discernible.

That difference comes in the delight of interacting with architecture not just from multiple distances and observing its multiple scales, but also its multiple angles. So many different ways to view a single building, not the least of which was looking directly up! To be fair, contemporary architecture tries to do this on occasion, but generally only as what I call, a “single move.” In other words, if the building engages from multiple angles, and encourages the viewer to walk around it, it fails miserably on the other measurements: multiple scales, details, proportion, ornament, texture, materials, etc. It is a single move, and to use an analogy from figure drawing, it is akin to simply portraying the shadow of the model. Compelling from one perspective or two, but ultimately banal.

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So this is my demand for the world and our goal at MGLM: Architecture which operates at all scales, speaks (nay, sings!) across all distances, employs ornament and detail, draws the viewer closer in wonder and delight, and contributes beauty to the fabric of its environment.  Can you dig it?

Post Script:

The AIA has a current social media campaign that is identified by #ilookup and attempts to elevate the profession by talking up the lofty ideals and efforts of architects. But how is the general public supposed to be inspired or encouraged when the contemporary tripe that is constantly built is nothing worth looking up at, much less looking up to?

Art Deco? Yes. Art Freakin Deco.

Here at MGLM we are extremely passionate about Art Deco and practice it whenever we have the chance. One of the more interesting aspects about Art Deco is that it wasn’t a consistent style, with each country, each region having their own variation of, and in some cases even their own name for, the aesthetic which spanned generally from inter-war periods of 1919-1939. Many items are considered deco that were created before and after that timeframe. Plenty of experts point to the 1925 Paris Exhibition as the introduction of high Art Deco but more research has revealed that a lot of designers were simplifying their forms and adding elements that previewed the style even as far back as 1900, especially here in Chicago. Even though at the time it was considered quite “modern” with the main tenets of modernity, movement, angularity, and luxury of materials, we now look back on Deco and its design language as a logical extension of traditional classicism with its emphasis on proportion, hierarchy, and use of architectural ornament. Deco above all was concerned with the beauty of design, something that Modernists of the same era, especially those involved in the Bauhaus movement and the International Style, considered abhorrent and superfluous. Thus, during the heyday of Modernism (1940’s-1970’s), many Deco gems were destroyed due to lack of appreciation. Fortunately, many people now, including us, consider Deco as the last great flourishing of traditional vernacular language before the advent of the stripped down monotonous steel and glass structures. And it is our intention to pick up the mantle and restore the place of art in architecture! Submitted by MG

Kitchen Renovation in Progress

Range detail

New Lacanche (France!) range and Rookwood (Ohio!) subway tile backsplash.

Crown detail

New crown detail & a recessed light still awaiting its finishing touches.

New window over sink

New tripartite window over the sink, expertly crafted by Krumpen Woodworks – still waiting on the final hardware (and sink fixtures).

New island

New island with Vermont Danby Marble countertop and butcher block end piece (and more temporary sink fixtures!).

New range and subway tile backsplash

The new Lacanche range and Rookwood subway tile backsplash – fine Christopher Peacock cabinetry throughout!

Pot filler detail

Detail of the pot filler and handsome tile (pre-grout).

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The vanquished kitchen: circa summer 2012…

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…it didn’t quite fit the aesthetic of the lovely Colonial home it supported.

Katsura Imperial Villa

Many architectural enthusiasts are drawn to simple details, clean lines, balanced compositions, and a connection to nature, and those enthusiasts often cite traditional Japanese architecture for their design ideas.

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Throughout its many stages of development, Japanese architecture has characteristically and expertly combined elements of nature and the man-made into sublime creations.

Although not widely known, the epitome of that combination is embodied in the Katsura Imperial Villa complex located on the outskirts of Kyoto.

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The villa complex exhibits stunning interiors as well as exquisite landscaping, often times expertly blurring the distinction between the interior and exterior.

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By focusing on Katsura Imperial Villa, we hope in future posts to explore the complex’s architectural lessons by understanding its historical development, the personalities involved in its creation, the characteristics of its particular style of architecture, and most importantly, focusing on the villa’s multitude of interior and exterior details that can inform our current craft of building and design.