Tag Archives: architecture

Two hundred and fifty things an architect should know

tacoma narrowsI was listening to an interesting podcast called 99 percent invisible. I got distracted at some point and lost the thread, but a few minutes later my mind was reeled in again when I heard the words “the distance a shout carries in the city“. The voice continued to read what seemed to be a list of unconnected things. And as I started listening again I found that several of the items (the distance of a whisper; how to design a corner;  the difference between a ghetto and a neighbourhood; the meaninglessness of borders; the angle of the sun at the equinox; the smell of concrete after rain …) sparked the thought: “I’d really like to know about that”. When the list finished, my mind had been massaged out of a state of numbness into one wanting to go out and look at everything, read new books or listen to interesting people.

In the credits to the podcast I found that the items read out were from a list entitled “Two Hundred and Fifty Things an Architect Should Know” by Michael Sorkin and included in his book “What Goes Up”. In case you find it interesting as well I have reproduced the list below.

Listening to the list being read out was like standing in a strange rain, one drop falling at a time, each one from a totally unpredictable angle and each drop waking my mind a little more. If you want to reproduce my experience, I have recorded the whole list here. Sit down, try to remember the smell of rain on concrete and start:


1.    The feel of cool marble under bare feet.
2.    How to live in a small room with five strangers for six months.
3.    With the same strangers in a lifeboat for one week.
4.    The modulus of rupture.
5.    The distance a shout carries in the city.
6.    The distance of a whisper.
7.    Everything possible about Hatshepsut’s temple (try not to see it as ‘modernist’ avant la lettre).
8.    The number of people with rent subsidies in New York City.
9.    In your town (include the rich).
10.    The flowering season for azaleas.
11.    The insulating properties of glass.
12.    The history of its production and use.
13.    And of its meaning.
14.    How to lay bricks.
15.    What Victor Hugo really meant by ‘this will kill that.’
16.    The rate at which the seas are rising.
17.    Building information modeling (BIM).
18.    How to unclog a rapidograph.
19.    The Gini coefficient.
20.    A comfortable tread-to-riser ratio for a six-year-old. Read more…

The many ways a minaret might be

Minarets fabricT(This is a post from 2010).
The other day I came across an article in Le Monde about the political situation in Vorarlberg, a region of Austria. Together with Carinthia, Vorarlberg has adopted a law to prevent buildings being erected which aren’t “ortsüblich“. The best way I have found to render ortsüblich in this case is “typically local”.

And the aim of the provision was to make sure no one thought of puncturing the local skies with a minaret. So far, this seems to be just another of the many depressing stories you hear about nowadays. But now comes the interesting part: in the Vorarlberg town of Hohenems there is a small Jewish museum. The director is  called Hanno Loewy and in response to the provision he organised not one but two conferences  on “How to build a typically local minaret” (September 2008 and June 2009).
Read more…