Posts tagged with architecture
Documenting Richmond’s Decay, Building by Building
Richmond, Virginia, has seen its fair share of architectural tumult. During the Civil War, a quarter of the city’s structures were destroyed by the Great Evacuation Fire of 1865; in modern times, urban decay and economic downturn have left many more structures abandoned and forgotten. But it’s from that slow urban crumble that a group called Decayed Richmond has emerged — sneaking into old buildings and documenting their stories, in photos and words. For the past two years, the group of urban explorers has climbed, crawled, jumped, and rapelled their way into some of Richmond’s scariest locations — churches, schools, an abandoned mental institution — all in a quest for meaning. Do those old buildings mean anything? Do they have a story to tell?
Mostly artists and students who keep their identities secret, Decayed Richmond is now working on a Kickstarter-funded documentary that will follow them as they document the interiors of these derelict places. They are vigilante historians who give the decay a name and face. But they do abide by one over-arching mantra: Take only photographs. Leave only footprints. Here’s what they have to say about their mission and craft.
Why make a documentary about Richmond?
Richmond has a rich but dark history. Not to mention, abandonment is quite abundant here. There are so many little-heard secrets hidden in the tunnels and decaying buildings, waiting to be uncovered by those who wander into that darkness.
Wall Dogs: The Midair Muralists Who Paint New York
It’s 8am in Soho, the thermometer reads just above freezing, and the sky is bleak. Taxis splash down the streets; New Yorkers stride with their heads down, leaping over puddles, carelessly bumping into each other. Everyone wants to get out of the cold, out of the rain, into the warmth.
Ten stories above — on a long, skinny platform hanging from the facade of a building at Canal and Mercer in downtown Manhattan — it’s a different story. Climbers’ ropes secured around their torsos, Jason Coatney and Armando Balmaceda stand in a melange of open paint cans and brushes. These two muralists of Colossal Media, the largest hand-painted advertising company in America, are heavily layered in sweatshirts and raincoats. But in this industry, c’est la vie. Paintbrushes in their fingerless-gloved hands, earbuds in their ears — “I like to start out with Miles Davis in the morning,” Coatney smiles, his breath visible in the frigid air — they begin yet another workday in the sky.
It’s the third morning at this location, and the duo are on track, despite the rain, to complete a 30x18-foot mural — commissioned by Etsy to advertise a holiday pop-up shop — by the next evening’s deadline. Coatney carefully bends down, dipping the tip of his brush into a ruddy orange. “It’s a really weird mix of things that makes an artist like a wall dog,” he says.
Some say the origins of the term is derogatory. “Wall dogs” were the unofficial names of the men who were, almost literally, chained to outdoor facades to hand paint the enormous signs still decorating the faded exteriors of today’s landmarked buildings. But these days, the name is a sign of professional pride.
Before vinyl posters printed and hung by a couple guys and a crane became the norm, this was the way big-city advertising was done. Common practice in the decades before the Great Depression, painting these signs took days, perhaps weeks, of hard labor and skills that took years to hone.
Despite a couple updates (they now use motorized pulley systems to raise the building rigs, instead of pulling them up themselves), Colossal is carrying on the tradition, just as their predecessors did more than a century before. Paul Lindahl and Adrian Moeller cofounded the company nine years ago (a third cofounder tragically passed away in a subway accident) by pooling together their savings, a few thousand dollars, and leasing a large wall on 14th Street and 6th Avenue. “Hanging banners is faster; there are less variables. Everyone just told us to take a hike,” recalls Lindahl. Finally, months later, someone bit –- Rockstar Games, of Grand Theft Auto fame -– and they were so taken with the medium that they commissioned Colossal to paint 30 walls.
Moeller chuckles proudly as he talks about the past. “For the first few jobs, we couldn’t even afford a pounce machine,” the little contraption that burns holes into the life-size sketch they make for each job. They’ll spread this out and rub it with charcoal dust to get a faint outline when they’re on the rig, to help get the proportions right. “So Paul used a thumbtack. You can imagine, that’s a lot of holes to make for a 20x30 foot wall.”
No more thumbtacks. Today, Colossal is a $10 million company, with over 150 walls around the country and 30 wall dogs to fill them. “It takes years and years of practice,” emphasizes Coatney, still on the Etsy rig, who’s been doing this for 15 years. The rain has abated, and he’s added the finishing touches to the “always handpaint” lettering of the Colossal insignia. He pauses, his brush hovering in midair. “There are a lot of talented people waiting to get up here, you know? A lot of talented people.”
Building Bridges as the Eurozone Buckles
Three years ago, graphic designer Robin Stam was at his favorite pizzeria in Rotterdam, waiting to pay after finishing his meal. Fingering the euro bank notes in his wallet, Stam focused on the depictions of bridges on the reverse side of the money.
Each euro note, introduced across 12 European countries on January 1 2002, has a purposely inoffensive aesthetic. Panoramas, designed to be simultaneously anywhere but nowhere in particular, are foregrounded by a fictitious bridge rendered in different styles, depending on the denomination of the cash. This gave Stam an idea. “The bridges were noted for being fictional — that was the whole point. I thought it was a funny idea to build the bridges as a tourist attraction.” A decade of careful preparation to make bank notes which didn’t remind people of anywhere was about to be undone by a guy paying for pizza.
Watch Your Back, Mister Softee: Coolhaus Marries Art & Ice Cream
"Your building looks like a layer cake," Natasha Case’s professor admonished. She was in architecture school at UC Berkley, and took this critique to heart. "He tells me this, and I’m thinking, why would he say that negatively? Layer cakes are awesome." So, for her second model, Natasha — now the cofounder of an ice cream sandwich truck called Coolhaus — constructed it from cake batter instead of cardboard. Everyone was transfixed during her class presentation. Then came the lightbulb moment: With food, getting people to pay attention is, truly, a piece of cake.
Moby on Strange and Beautiful LA Architecture
He lives — literally — in a castle in the sky. It is a sprawling structure, with a gatehouse turret, nestled under the Hollywood sign, high in the hills of Beachwood Canyon. It has a speakeasy in the basement, and the Rolling Stones once lived there.
It’s a new way of life for Moby, who spent decades in a one-bedroom apartment in the Lower East Side — with his recording studio in his bedroom and his bedroom in his closet. And yet, as it turns out, the musician is something of an architecture buff — captivated by the landscapes of urban geography. For the past year, Moby has been documenting the wild and beautiful ways of LA architecture on his blog, Moby Los Angeles Architecture. We asked him what makes LA architecture so baffling and unique.