Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Sneaky Suspect was Suspicious Citrus

When I first began this trip the purpose was to get to the Northwest. My ideas and lifestyle fit better into the culture. The travel plans were laid out to get there as soon as possible. Drive straight through and began a job search.

It took a car accident in Tucson to slow me down. No real damage to any of the cars; just minor scratches and a bent license plate frame. But life was going too fast. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “stop and smell the roses,” but I was ignoring them. I think if I were going to do this again, and with better funding and a media deal I would want to, I would take my time and “smell the roses.”

There is so much in life that you will miss if you just zip right by. In my everyday life I prefer going into the bank and fast food joints as opposed to the drive-through service. I would rather shop in a store than shop online. I would rather use face to face human interaction than impersonal transactions. With phone orders, dot-com shopping, infomercials, and drive-throughs, we, as a culture have lost touch with human reality. Convenience used to be getting gas and your slurpee in the same purchase, now it’s banking by text message. Human labor is no longer a necessity for doing business. I don’t think it’s to blame for the economy crisis, but it doesn’t look good to replace humans with robots and computers. As a side note, we’re just paving the way for the machine take over in the year 2012. Life has shifted into high gear, and if you aren’t ready to jump on the speeding bandwagon, then you are going to be left in the dark ages (a.k.a. the nineties). You can have a dinner ready in 90 seconds, just add water. You can get lose up to 10 pounds in just 10 days, just pick up the phone and dial now. You can lose your entire financial worth with one bad day in the stock market, suicide not recommended. It’s a bummer that we can’t receive speeding tickets in life.

I rant because I found myself a victim of this vicious cycle most people call normal life. While planning my escape to California, the easy route was I-10 west out of Tucson. It goes northwest to Phoenix, the turns west and makes a beeline through the desert into L.A. That route takes me directly through the little dry spot known as Death Valley. Great, as if West Texas wasn’t enough, all I need is more desert. There was nothing really exciting that I wanted to see on this route. Most of the incredible stuff to see, like the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, or the Casa Grande ruins, were too far off the road and would make better side trips; perhaps that media deal trip I mentioned earlier.

A short time out of Tucson, my GPS informs me I need to prepare to turn left. But Phoenix still an hour out and I was about to change course because an artificial voice knew a better way. She was already leading me into the middle of the desert, hopefully not towards a weekly meeting of a nihilist cult armed with tainted Kool-Aid. Without rigid plans, and not really knowing where I was going, I decided to roll with it and turn where she wanted me to; she being the GPS unit, my tragic friend along for my journey. She led me onto I-8 and when I realized that it wasn’t to get onto the Phoenix Bypass, I pulled out the atlas to check. I-8 parallels I-10, except that I-10 runs in to LA and I-8 goes into San Diego.

When you think San Diego you do you think Sea World? Maybe thoughts of running across the border to Tijuana strike your fancy. Or for those of you who follow golf, it’s also the location of the famous Torrey Pines Country Club, Tiger’s home club. But for me, and most of the architecturally influenced crowd, it’s the home of a famous design by Louis Kahn. The Jonas Salk Institute’s laboratory set on the cliff side coast in La Jolla, CA. In the midst of city traffic and urban lifestyle, Kahn was able to craft holistic and spiritual space for the advancement of scientific discovery. It’s safe to say that I got excited. Jason and I had joked about a day trip to San Diego to go see this, and now I was going to be there in few short hours. First, I had to get out of the desert.

I drove most of southern Arizona with my knees. Well, when the road is practically a 200 mile drag strip, why not?

I believe I have already discussed the potential of dozing off on these highways; even in the middle of the day I had to resort to three large coffees, six caffeinated sodas, and several power bars. Okay, I think I just wanted the coffee.

Secondary risks of these roads, foreshadowed by the metaphor above, are speeding tickets. I saw plenty of law enforcement officers just lurking on the roadside waiting for the chance to pounce. I was happy to get out of there without meeting any of Arizona’s finest.

Arizona gave me one final city to say goodbye, Yuma. It was about lunch so I had planned on stopping. Also, I wanted to scan throughout the car; I had been warned before I left about the California Produce screening. I had a car packed out with gear, so I was expecting to get stopped. If you had my luck, you’d have been paranoid too! All I found was a banana so I had it with my lunch.

It’s nothing special, but a big deal for me. In Yuma, I had my first taste of In-N-Out Burger. The delicious crafted beef with fresh toppings served with unprocessed French fries. The billboards had my mouth watering for eight miles, and the eleven years of waiting for my first taste was finally drawn to a close. While it is still fast food, it brings back memories of backyard outings and family picnics. It also brought back memories of volunteering in the nursing home. This particular day was apparently old folks day. I had to stand in line behind a flock of short, snow capped little ol’ ladies. It was like looking out over the clouds from the vantage of an airplane window as it crested the white blanket. And the dining room behind me was filled with septuagenarians alike. I was one of six people in this place in the 18-45 demographic, and it was stand room only. That meant the burgers had to be good.

So I had my burger and chewed on that banana and I searched the car over again, and re secured the bike in its place. I had driven from the Chesapeake Bay to Alabama, from Alabama to Arizona, and today, I going to see a sight that inspired musicians, speechwriters, painters, and adventurers alike: the Pacific Ocean. This was the day that completely conquered the width the states. The first step: the California state line and that produce inspection I had been warned about.

But where was it. Yuma is on the border of Arizona and California, so I expected it to be across the bridge. It wasn’t. Had someone lied to me, gotten me all worked up over nothing. I expected a border control station like those on international lines, where you couldn’t step foot in the politically controlled region without first going through rigorous questioning. But nope, nothing was even there. At least not the way I pictured it.

Not gonna lie, probably like this part of the blog entry, the produce search station was a bit of a let down. It ended up being fifteen or so mile into the state. Here I thought I was in clear. I was even mad that I had eaten that banana on top of my lunch. But not when I saw the sign: “Prepare to stop.” I don’t like law enforcement or any job that required a metallic badge. I’m not a bad person, but how many encounters have you had with an officer and ended with joking laughter and advice about women. It’s something about the obvious observance for me, I always feel like I’m being judged, measured and trial fitted into various profiling cookie cutters. Similar to approaching beautiful women, my palms sweat, my voice cracks, and I stumble over my word choice. It’s just my luck.

I pulled up to what looked like a toll booth and was greeted by an officer, who quickly eyed me, glanced about the car, and uttered “You got any fruits or veggies with you?” Then let me go after I told him no. He seemed like the kind of guy who not only never won employee of the month, but never cared enough to try. I’m sure his wife if a happy lady.

Pulling out of there was a relief, I could’ve had a bushel of apples or a crate of tangelos, but nope, I freaked out about a banana and scarfed it down.

When you hear the word ‘desert’ I’m sure you picture the Sahara or the dunes of Egypt: picturesque mountains of sand painted by the bristles of the wind. From San Antonio to the California line the desert landscape was nothing like that stereotypical desert. It was more a rocky barren undergrowth that didn’t have anything to be growing under. It’s the American Wild West, most often pictured during a sunset in a dramatic scene as a single tumbleweed traverses the dusty path. But the desert offering in Southern California was different.

First, let me clarify the word “southern.” The only roads south of the interstate were Border Patrol access roads that ran along the fence of the Mexican border. Looking out my driver’s widow I could see a tall fence that caterpillared across the sands. It was in admiring the fence that I noticed the barbed wire enclosing the interstate roadway. On the outside of the lanes was a four to five foot high barbed wire and steel post fence. Similar to what you might find on a thrift cattle farm. It was bit nerve racking to realize that safety in this country meant herding its citizen’s down the road. Shocking even more was the high quantity of breeches in the fence. I could easily picture a desperate patriarch cautiously checking sightlines as he snapped the wires, the last hurdle to his version of American freedom. For that added soap opera effect add a medium rain, two lighting flare ups, and a distressed look as he peeks from under his rain cloak. Breaking the roadway’s restraints put him into the vast sands where he knows what’s waiting for him just as well as he knows how to decipher American tax laws. A common site along I-8 was a lookout tower or a green and white truck perched atop a dune. Good luck to anyone who dare tries to cross into this country.

The desert that such an alien would be forced up against was that idyllic picture. There were a few stops that advertised potable water and advised you to stock up. The roadway was a seam through the desert. The only thing in the visible landscape that wasn’t beige, it was the aqueduct for transmission lines and automobiles alike. Glancing to the right was to look at the photograph adorning a National Geographic magazine spotlighting Egypt: just add camels.

I’ll share two photographs with you. The wind was really strong that day and caused my car to drift pretty bad, therefore snapping picturing while driving was not recommended. First is a photo forward. It looks more like a roadway in Abu Dhabi. The streaks that cross the road are sand particles being swiftly relocated by the wind. The second picture is a camera view out my side window. Not the best picture, but to capture it I stuck my hand to the right and snapped with out looking. My eyes had to stay on the road. I would have loved to stop and capture a sand dune with my camera, but given my already close encounters and the density of Border Patrol vehicles, that was a risk I could do with out. I already had my share of Homeland Security interrogation at the airport in Dallas.

Next stop I made was El Centro, California. Not much there but in an area where cities were far separated by hundred of miles of desert, I took the opportunity to gas up and refill my water bottle. What I found was a city under the sea. Well, under sea level. From the vantage of a parking lot I managed to capture proof. According to the Garmin, I was only 50 feet below the water line, but the graphic on the reservoir was more powerful. Plus is fits in my category of architectural potential that could display the scars of time.

Same ol’ same old on the back side of El Centro: sand, rocks, and an asphalt ribbon. I think somewhere in there was a checkpoint; I went through several that day. Other than lost time waiting in line I wasn’t hassled at any of them.

A sign appeared on the road side as a mountain range filled my windshield. It read: Turn off air conditioner to avoid over heating, Next 60 miles. It was followed by repeated warnings to check radiator fluid levels. A stark contrast in my view was it went from sand to rocks. Massive rocks! These boulders must have been the size of passenger vans, and yet there smooth texture was a feature you find in river rocks.

These rocks were everywhere. The road seemed to climb a pile and reveal what looked more like the segregated piles of building blocks I used to make when playing with my Legos. They are organized remnants of a celestial being’s playtime. And the pile of rocks was huge! I could feel the pressure on the engine as it struggled to mount the massive pile of rocks. The road began switchbacks when it had to weave around the smaller piles. The photo below is one of the magnificent views that I did a crappy job trying to capture.
I used my GPS device to monitor my elevation change. It was fairly obvious that in the short distance from El Centro I was quickly climbing up. The most drastic elevation change in one day that I can recall and it’ll probably remain that way until I climb a mountain. The Southern California hills that I was climbing that day peaked around 4050ft; I was able to register 4034ft on the GPS monitor. At the top I found California’s version of the green energy windmill generator.

They were significantly larger than their cousins in Texas and noticeably different in style. I know they aren’t apart of T. Boone Pickens’ windmill collection, and if I had to put down money, I would bet that these were chosen due to environmental health benefits of the production, transportation, and installation process. California is the known leader of legislation meant to improve the life of its citizens by taking preventative measures against carcinogenic and environmentally harmful goods and processes. Often times these legislations tend to stretch the severity of danger. Just about anything can cause cancer, but only within the borders defined by the state of California.

I mentioned earlier on the blog, I believe it was the second entry, about my personal jubilation upon attending the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. Of the famous projects that I’ve been able to see, Louis Kahn’s design for the Kimbell is a rarity that possesses the respect it earned in my personal studies. The display of art is not a unique problem but he devised a unique solution. As one would later come to expect from Kahn, he constructed the space with simple materials and simple geometries but utilized a superior level of craft and unique details in the composition. His work truly is allowed to speak for itself.

This is why Jonas Salk, a biomedical researcher, physician and developer of the polio vaccine, approached Kahn about a new research laboratory he wanted to build on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Kahn’s plan was developed to accommodate the habits of scientific researchers and the harsh environmental conditions in the Southern California climate. By breaking up the laboratory space into two large rectangles he was able to separate them with a vast courtyard. To maintain proximity to their specific lab, the scientists are given offices that adorn the edges of the courtyard. The office space utilizes an angled wall to bounce indirect sunlight into the interior of the office where it can be used as task lighting. A small trickle of water traverses the courtyard space providing an auditory stimulation yet remains a seemingly unimportant compositional element. Yet this element is single thread that holds together the decision to split the laboratory block into two separate blocks. This small tickle of water has been designed to give the impression that it feeds the Pacific Ocean. Note the first photo: this is a view from the lemon tree garden at the entry gates.
I didn’t spend much time at the Salk Institute, I still had a few hours of driving left and I wanted to be in L.A. by dinner time. I imagine it is an incredible site to be there at sunset as the orange and purples cast a warm glow over the concrete and travertine surfaces in the courtyard space. Maybe next time I’ll call ahead and try to get a tour of the facility.

But like I said, I was on the road to L.A.! A beautiful drive that pretty much followed the coastline until it got to the city. This was a chance for me to get my first California sunset and it was right along the coast! I did my best to capture the view so you could what my eyes saw, but traffic was just pitiful and looking through a viewfinder was not an option. I used the self-taught skilled I discovered in the desert and just held the camera facing in the direction of the coast and pushed the shutter button, all with out ever taking my eyes off the road. Take a gander what my better frames:

Ok, so those aren’t that great. And if you can tell what the heck those two things are in that last one, please let me know. My guesses are a water purification or desalination facility, an energy turbine house of some type, or perhaps a geotech seismic measuring station. It’s obvious that they are either producing are consuming a lot of electricity as a massive amount of power transmission lines cascade down the hill and tap into those large spheres. I also figure they have some type of societal benefit (producing power or warning of earthquakes) because several pairs lined the oceanfront in periodic elements. Maybe someone can let me know if my observations are correct.

This coastal interstate brought me from southern San Diego into the southwest section of Los Angeles. This was the key reasoning for allowing me through San Diego. The route that I had googled (psst… when you use ‘google’ as a verb, should you capitalize it?) from Tucson to Santa Monica had me take I-10 into Phoenix, through Death Valley and into the east side of Los Angeles and travel across the entire city. The chosen route allowed me to enter on what was supposed to be a lesser congested roadway. Much to my dismay… I ran into the infamous traffic that most visitors complain about. To fully get an idea of what I in, I present you with this next image. It really captured the essence of LA traffic. For reference this is in hour 3 of the 4pm-8pm rush hour.
I reached Jamie’s apartment in Santa Monica at a relatively decent hour. Jamie had prepared a roast for dinner and it was about ready. There was plenty of time to unload the car then sit back with a cold drink. I was also introduced to her pet Chihuahua, Lefty. He’s named Lefty because his insane infatuation with the involuntary left spin. No matter what the occasion: going outside, somebody new walking in, just a loud noise in the kitchen, or perhaps he hears the signature sound of food dropping into his bowl, he always marks the occasion with several fully body counter-clockwise rotations. While I’m not too fond of smaller dogs, Lefty was a pretty cool perro.

I sat down to dinner with Jamie and her boyfriend and indulged in a conversation tailored to the great and sometimes not so great times back in the southern Presbyterian high school we both attended. Several laughs and even some gossip, most of it about those who have already gotten pregnant. There was a lot of discussion about the future: what each of us wanted out of life and where we saw ourselves in the next few years. Assuming this economy turns around, I may actually meet my goals. And dinner was finished with a discussion about outdoor activities easily accessed out west. Her boyfriend is big into rock climbing and was telling about his adventure in Joshua Tree National Park.

The evening at Jamie’s was rounded off by a riveting screening of the Showtime hit Dexter while eating a chocolate bar, then passing out on a futon. I apparently don’t know how to sleep on a futon. I woke up with my body hanging halfway off the mattress and the most awful pain in my back. A college degree doesn’t help you sleep better, they aren’t soft enough.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

There are No Answers to the Riddles in the Sand

Have you ever had one of these days? You know, you have nothing planned until a late evening activity, but you get sidetracked and miss it. Maybe it was a date to paint pottery with your girlfriend, perhaps a free pizza meeting with the church’s youth group, or maybe you were just going to catch the latest Spider-man movie with some buddies. Attempting to fill the void in your day gets you involved with various mind-numbing tasks that usually sustain a promoted level of laziness. The monotonous events of the day put you in a stooper. I’m sure you’ve heard the idiom about being “high on life,” well what I’m talking about could be appropriately labeled as a “hangover of boredom.” By the time you snap out of it you realize that too much time has past thus rendering it impossible to make your evening plans.

That’s the day I was expecting to have when I woke up in Phoenix at Shawni’s house. My evening plans you ask: dinner with Buffy and Joe while their kids had their own plans. This was going to be a rare moment to be with my family in which neither of them would be rushing out of the house or doing chores.

Because of the way my family is organized, it’s not often I get to see anyone on my Dad’s side. We made it a point to discuss the last memories of being around each other. It was a good three years since I last saw Buffy and almost eight since I had seen her husband or children. Justin managed to elude me this time, but that’s because he’s at college in Colorado. One shouldn’t go that long without seeing their relatives, but it’s hard when everyone is spread out. Right now my Mom remains in Alabama, Dad and older brother in the D.C. area, and Josh, once he graduates college is likely to venture off like I’m doing. Play darts on a map of the Northeast and Midwest and you have the location of most of my Dad’s family members, while my mom’s family is dotted across the southeast. If I just visited each of them I could see the entire country east of the Mississippi River, and bits of Canada too, eh! Hmm...Orlando to Toronto: possibly my next roadtrip!

Despite looking forward to dinner, I missed it. As an added bonus, my cell phone committed suicide trying to find a signal, leaving me without a way to call ahead and let Buffy know that I wasn’t able to join them for the hot pot cuisine. I employed a miniature phone tree starting with the first phone number I remembered, my mother, and had her relay the message through my brother, who had Buffy’s number. Sometimes my life feels like I’m starring in a sitcom, only I’m the character who always plays the punchline. Like Screech but better looking. My mom always said to us while we were growing up, and it remains true, “it could be worse.”

I do realize that I’m backtracking here. This entry begins to encroach on the previous day’s ending, but I was exhausted after writing and loading all those images of Taliesin West. So bear with me.

I ended up buying a car charger for my cell phone at the Surprise, AZ Wal-Mart. Once the phone had been resuscitated, I was able to call Buffy. She gave me the garage code then told me to scavenge my own food. Such love in this family!

From Phoenix, the drive south on I-10 to Tucson is straight, flat and mundane. I think it might be possible to use a primitive auto-pilot system for most of the roads in the desert. In fact, I’m actually working on a design for one. Remember those anti-theft devices called ‘The Club,’ usually seen on a twelve year Hyundai Accent that has fuzzy dice and three shiny plastic hubcaps you can buy at big-box retailers. Ok, so use one of those. Set it to lock the wheel in the straight position. Then you need to put a gym bag on the pedal. You need to be careful here though, unless you have the luxury of cruise control, which if you are actually considering this then you do not. The gym bag needs to be filled to provide the appropriate weight in response to the pressure of the accelerator pedal. Failure to heed to this step might result in a speeding ticket. Once you covered all the necessary precautions and set the Club in place, take a nap for 110 miles. For life on the desert roadways, this is a great opportunity to catch up on those stray ‘Z’s.

Seriously though, those roads through the desert will make one bob their head if they venture out there without a steady caffeine supply. I found myself downing several sodas, coffees, energy bars, and, God forbid I get salmonella poisoning, lots of peanuts and trail mix. You may have heard of west Texas and the horrifically boring drive to get to the other side, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not just Texas. The entire Wild West is filled with these droning arrow-straight highways. The cities of the west are a traveler’s oasis that fills the windshield like a mirage then disappear once you reach the other side. Take Arizona for example. The state has two cities, the Phoenix metro area and Tucson’s smaller version of a metro. The various scatterings of villages and towns not on the main straight roads are filled with farmers, outcasts, and people who are hiding from the tax man. After passing through the area, it makes perfect sense that a secret government compound could be hidden for years with out detection or interference.

But back to the reason you are here.

Getting back to Tucson after dropping off Jason had me arriving about the time of the should-have-been dessert course. I used that garage code I was armed with and stumbled in, tired, exhausted, and since I hadn’t had a shower yet, a little stinky. To my surprise I find Ellie, my cousin and a senior in high school, and her boyfriend in the kitchen. For the sake of an amazingly funny story and potential parent confidentiality payment, I wish they had been doing something inappropriate. But she is a good girl, and apparently he’s a fairly decent chap himself. Not that it’s needed, but after meeting him, he gets my approval. I sat down with them over leftover lo mien noodles. I joked about how missing dinner signed me up for a babysitting gig. That was until the doorbell went off and the pair’s high school friends marched through the door. Missing dinner apparently made me the chaperone for a teen party. Not a crazy ‘American Pie’ style teen party, these kids just opened some snacks and popped in a movie. I think it’s nice to have a house where everyone can gather, almost uninvited. I even liked how they seemed to have done this so many times before. They raided the pantry like third world refugees showing up at a Western Sizzlin’ buffet.

It recollects cartoons and old television programs where a preteen just showed up and pleaded “can Tommy come out and play?” There is a safe place in a safe environment and parents are comfortable with their child being there. Whether you find it in grammar school, high school, college, or the professional world, these types of environments provide a setting for bonding with other individuals that will pave the way for long lasting friendships, job connections, and possibly even romantic interests. But we’ll let that last one slide; it’s not important right now.

Buffy and Joe got home later in the evening. Dining establishments in Arizona shut down early, and they recounted for us how they had bounced to several different joints only to show up as the lights were being shut off. I could easily picture this as a comedic montage set to really bad music in a B rate movie. I think at one point they showed up at a restaurant as her daughter was leaving the same place. That leaked a few grins from the crowd.

My time in Tucson had been cut short by the car accident and the bonus time Jason and I spent at Taliesin West. I was half way to overall destination and time was moving too fast. I had driven almost 1900 miles in two days, and didn’t have much to show for it. I originally planned on driving straight out to the Northwest. Seeking places to spend extra days was merely so that I wouldn’t do consecutive days driving. If I had to do it again, I would’ve taken my time. That’s why in Arizona, I decided to slow down. I called ahead to my next two stops and pushed the days back so I could spend more time in Arizona. With my eyes being wrapped up in the natural beauty, and knowing that I was headed to the land of rain 250 plus days a year, so I wanted to stay a little while longer. Can you blame me? This also gave me the chance to visit a few firms in Tucson area and spread my work around the Southwest.

I visited two in particular. One was the office of Rick Joy Architects, he doesn’t have much of a website, but if you search him on Google or YouTube you should run across some of his better known works. Rick Joy is a world renowned architect based out of Tucson. He began with work in the Tucson area and now has spread out to various projects in Mexico, South America, and Europe. While business is bustling along just fine for them, they are a relatively small firm. Upon my visit I saw eight people working and they only have a handful more.

The other firm I visited was a local design-build group with their own contractor on staff. They seemed to really like me and my work samples and the atmosphere was one in which I could see myself working efficiently. Bad news though, and he let me down gently, they are a ten person design firm, and with the current economic conditions, they had layoff seven. Now they only have three people, and that includes the firm’s principal.

It’s a bit depressing to hear someone get excited about seeing your work but then shut you down with that kind of overwhelming news. The economic world is crumbling around us, people are being let off by the hoards, and I’m supposed to start a career in this food stamp and welfare battlefield?!

To suppress my sinking ambition I decided to just do what I love to do, photo safari! I drove around the Tucson area to some fairly interesting sites. I wasn’t able to get the camera out while in the car, but as you enter downtown on the main road, a pedestrian crosswalk soars overhead. The chain link enclosure is turned 45 degrees so that it can create the skin pattern of a diamondback rattle snake. The entry towards the city even has the chain link material sculpted into a snake’s head. I took a driving tour around downtown Tucson, which resembles old western cities portrayed in classic films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but modernized. It wasn’t the seemingly safest environment to be whipping out a camera. Not to mention, because it’s an old city, parking was a hassle.

I later found my self on the south side of town, near the Pima Air and Space Museum.

The building for this Museum is the only thing on the road that isn’t a state trooper or chopped up aircraft. It is in the center of a huge boneyard. Traveling on a main road that splits the bone yard in two, it take about 12 minutes to pass through. Before seeing this, I had only seen this type of junkyard in movies and videogames. There is a really neat car racing game where you can jump the wingspan of a listing KC-10. But this wasn’t a mindless scattering of aircraft like those represented in mass media. The planes and helicopters looked like they had been surgically broken down and searched for reusable parts then organized in the field. It was another grim reminder of the world we live in.

Trying to capture photos of the planes began with me sticking the camera out the window to capture the roadside alignment fuselages and cockpits. But due to the highway speed and lighting conditions, all I really got were motion blurs.

I found a turn off road that provided me a place to get out of the car and inspect the field better. Granted the whole thing is surrounded with barbed wire, I only observed from the fence. I think the lot’s attendant was fond of the Grumman planes, he had one next to his trailer that had been stabilized with cables and seemed to have been put back together. I’m fairly certain that it was the same type of plane that Jimmy Buffett used as his Hemisphere Dancer.

There are two photos in particular that I like, one is the alignment of rudders and the other is various cabin sections.
I spent most of my time hanging out with Buffy and her kids, including going to see the horses and the new horse barn and show arena where they keep them. I found myself disgruntled at certain architectural elements. I don’t understand why people like symmetry so much but it’s what they want to spend millions of dollars on, so be it. I was impressed with the high level of quality the facility had, so this one bum detail dumfounded me. Anyway, highlight of the afternoon there, I saw this huge mechanical bull. I thought it was odd that they have it here. Even odder of the arm-sized hole in one end which I investigated with my hand. It was later revealed that it was a breeding facility so I washed up really quickly. The ‘mechanical bull’ was actually a semen collector that male horses mount. I’ll let you use your imagination about the hole. Since it was under construction, I’m betting, no, no, I’m sure that it hasn’t been used yet. And if you can correct me… DON’T! I’m satisfied knowing it hasn’t been test driven yet!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

In a Sandbox with Pointy Plants

Have you ever seen old photographs? The ones that have old relatives in them. Maybe it's just a snapshot of two aunts standing in front of a house, one have her hair tied back in a bandanna and the other has those Cadillac fin thick white frame sunglasses. The image usually looks washed out and the colors faded, not because of the fading on the photo but instead it's related to the quality of the camera the photo was shot on a few decades earlier. I'm now beginning to wonder if it was just the intensity of the sun.

In Arizona the sun seems to shell out a different light. I don't know if it has a meteorological reasoning, maybe the lack of humidity in the atmosphere to break up UVs. Is it something that could be added to the list for global warming? Maybe it's just the fact that I'm in a different environment, but it definitely seems harsher and more intense here. Granted this could also be because everything is brown in the desert.
I awoke on Shawni's couch to these harsh rays pounding on my eyelids. The early morning haze threw me off, I couldn't figure out why the light was coming from my feet. It was because Jason was up early mapping out routes for his bike trip from Phoenix and he had left the porch door open. Without the chance to fall asleep again, I decided to join him and poke around the map book. Trying to find out location in Scottsdale so that he could plan his Phoenician Escape, my finger ran across a small attraction marker east of Scottsdale about 8 miles into the desert.

"Taliesin West."
Instantly, we both knew our plan for the day.

But first we needed food; Shawni recommended a regional joint called U.S. Egg. It was similar to an IHOP but with much better food. After decoding the menu for about 10 minutes, we all ended up ordering the same thing, a hash brown scrambler skillet with protein pancakes. And no, that's not protein milk mix in the pancakes; they mixed in blueberries, granola, chopped almonds, and a few other things into the pancake batter. It was more like a Nature Valley granola bar in pancake form.

After breakfast...oh who am I kidding, after lunch we said good bye to Shawni and then hit the road. We both noticed this Jesse James culture in the Arizona cities. I don't mean bank robber types, I mean hot rods, choppers, classic muscle cars. The streets were filled with bikers who looked like they belonged on a Discovery Channel Special. The flat level streets with the tight city blocks made it a good place to cruise through town and show off your work.
Here's one such automobile for your viewing pleasure, spotted in the parking lot when we left U.S. Egg:
But on to the prize of the day. America's most accomplished, well known, and arguable the world's best architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, was invited to design and build a hotel in Phoenix some years ago. Upon visiting the desert from his studio/home in Spring Green, Wisconsin, he grew fond of the climate and natural beauty that Arizona offered him. I imagine he saw something like this:

He bought a piece of property that was rejected by farmers because there well drilling efforts rendered no water. After studying the hill side Mr. Wright only suggested digging deeper. He purchased the land and dug from the farmer's 350 feet to 500feet down hit water that still flows to this day. It has been traced back to the melt water from the Colorado Rocky Mountains that melted three years before it ends up here.

Jason and I were thrilled to be here, but you don't get to go much further than this next photo without paying for a guided tour.

Well heck how much is it, were only here once!.... it was nearly 40 bucks! When we each heard that enormously high figure we both cringed. Here is an architectural icon of the American great, and we were contemplating passing up the chance to see it because of out limited budgets.

But remember, Jason was with me. God bless him, Jason is the type of character that you either love or hate as soon as you meet him. He's possibly the most genuine person I've ever met. He explained our grief in being architecture students and having to pass on this Architecture Mecca. We just wondered the gift store trying to soak up as much Taliesin as we could from the view out the window.

The lady behind the counter apparently spoke with someone in private and then sought us out before we were about to leave and offered us a specialty discounted rate. Jason, and the compassion this woman had for him, was able to get a nearly 75% discount. I think they wanted us to see this place more than we wanted to see it! We couldn't pass that up, and then spent the next two hours with a man who has been claimed as one of the better tour guides at Taliesin West.

So we began, I'm just going to post several pictures with small annotations or notes. Keep in mind that some of these aren't even good pictures. They are what I've dubbed "photographic sketching," photographing details or moments for architectural study later. I'm posting them here because I bet the architectural/design/engineering circle of friends will enjoy them.

Scattered about the land were several markings of an ancient civilization. Phoenix is a modern city that still uses an ancient canal to deliver water. It was built by the same people who left these markings, the Hohokam, a pre-America Indian people dated around the same time as the Incas and Aztecs. "Hohokam" is actually a word designated the tribes around the Southwest. It's an Indian word that appropriately identifies what happened to them, it means "used up."

Several of the markings were able to be translated. Not positive but I think it had to do with a carry over language system used by modern tribes. The second petraglyph on the rock above was understood to mean 'friendship.' Wright was taken with the graphic appeal of the interlocking spirals and decided to adapt this as his signature.

Wright's philosophy was to create a building of the earth, not on the earth. He wanted to pretty much use what was on his property or near by services to erect his structures and live in a balance with the natural setting. The stones were placed in wood forms which were then filled with concrete made mostly of the sand and dirt under his feet. The red wood rafters came from a local sawmill and then had canvas stretched over them to allow light to permeate into the interior.
This is inside the main presentation space. Wright would meet his clients and work here. Note the interior surface is the same as the exterior. The large thermal mass of the concrete would prevent the heat from penetrating too quickly, but at night when the temperature in the desert drops, the heat collected throughout the day would be released keeping a relatively comfy interior temperature. Thank you Lechner!
Wright borrowed the angle of the mountain in the background. He used this angle as the slope of roof structure for all of his redwood and canvas roofs.
There are a few pools around the property. Most are 18-24 inches deep, so not as much a "pool" as much as a "water feature," the term we use in the business! All of them are still well-fed and have been since the project was built. The three main pools represent the trinity of geometries, Triangle, Circle and Quadrangle, and serve a purpose of irrigation for the non-local plants and humidifying the dry air. But the main reason these are strategically located around the premises is to combat Wright's inevitable enemy: He as fire prone. With water reservoirs located intermittently throughout the complex, should a fire spark up, someone could run and grab a bucket quickly!
Wright was influenced heavily by Asian culture, and here is one of several pieces he put into the walls as a reminded that the architecture is a setting for the play of life.
The private garden, with a neato portal. Don't know where it goes. They wouldn't let us go through it.

View into the garden from Wright's bed room in the south wing of the original structure.

Garden Room. This was connected to his library, but presently it seems to be a display of furniture and art work. The chair in the center is a Wright design inspired by Japanese origami.

This is the view west toward Phoenix. At one time there was a porch that allowed you to step out and be in the landscape. However, after relentlessly fighting the power company to reposition their transmission lines, he walled off the patio and reoriented the view to the garden.

A few of the art pieces in the Garden Room including, a bronze bust by Heloise Carter. This was her first bronze attempt. I have more for you later.

This dragon was a gift to the Wrights from (I think) the Japanese Emperor. It was designed to be a water fountain. Not buying into the oxymoron, Wright had it wired with a gas line and mounted in this courtyard. At nighttime, a four foot flame shoots out of his mouth.

The bell tower.

Wright was interested in music. In fact composers are often compared in the same breath with architects, because like architects, they don't create their medium, they arrange the units to make a beautiful whole. Wright took it literally by basing measurements on the scale of the notes.

The circular fountain. This one caught my attention audibly. The bell is the top of an agricultural storage tank and the ringers were glass floats that bobbled and struck the bell as the water rippled. Neat!

Wright had a fascination with movies. He was particularly fond of John Wayne. Here was a dinner theater in which he and his wife would allow students and invited guests to join them for a movie as they dined.

A mountain perch photo of the original complex looking towards Phoenix. Obviously before the power lines were put in, but it also was well before Phoenix grew to the size that it is today.

The following are sculptures by Heloise Carter. They are all bronze cast and they are all for sale (though replicas) and I think they go for 400-800 dollars depending on which one you want. These are some on my favorites.

Had to pose for that tourist photo! This is the site marker with the iconic shallow planter, only it's a fountain out here, and once again, it’s a cannibalized agricultural tank.

But look behind me....

I think somebody might be missing one of these!

Taliesin West is up there as the second project to hold up to the anticipated value. It was my first Wright project to actually go inside. I want to also see the other two spectrums he worked in, the Robie House in Chicago, IL and the Kaufman House in Bear Run, PA, which should provide me a complete spectrum of his potential and basis for my own personal evaluation.

Jason and I set out, almost disappointed to leave, but the sun was setting and he had to jump on his bike. We drove to the Northwest side of Phoenix, a little community called Surprise. No joke, Surprise, Arizona. Want proof, you can see my receipt from the Surprise Wal-Mart, that's where Jason got food for dinner and the days ahead. It also served as our separation point. The parking lot of a consumer discount big-box store is a stark contrast from the isolated and divinely natural beauty where I picked him up in Texas.

We got alot of strange looks while we were preparing his bike. He got a few good luck wishes and a few 'W.T.F.'s, but this is Jason, I doubt it fazed him at all. To help I gave him some of my road rations, a few packets of trail mix, sunflower seeds, and a sleeve of Oreos. After all, he probably needs to carbs!

Wal-Mart is definitely not his setting. But pedal onward my adventurous friend. I shot a video of him on his departure, and like the last video you'll have to wait for it. However it's quite hilarious. Jason gets all set for the road; he saddles up, and hits the trail. I keep the camera on him and say something cheesy like "We'll always have Arizona," but he keeps pedaling onward. You begin to hear me giggle in the background as I shout "Hey Jason, the highway is that way!"

That was the last time I saw Jason. We're supposed to meet up again in Oregon. I helped him out by carrying some stuff for him that was just going to weigh him down on the road. Plus it'll give me a good excuse to go back to Eugene.

After dropping him off, I hit the road for Tucson again. This drive took me through Glendale where I got the chance to see Peter Eisenman's University of Phoenix stadium. I think it would have been a better experience to go to a game, but the home team's next matchup was the Super Bowl in Tampa, but maybe some other time.

Over and out!

(Tucson, AZ)