February 07, 2010

Common Sense

Malcolm Millais "Exploding the Myths of Modern Architecture": a book aimed at the general public that oscillates uncomfortably between an empathic socially-engaged engineer's response to architectural blight, and the sort of bluff prejudices-masquerading-as-common-sense more at home in the Daily Mail. He's not half as much fun as Tom Wolfe, and probably not nearly as effective, either.

He aims at all the usual suspects — Mies, Corb, the Bauhaus, Norman Foster, council flats, etc. — but also at Calatrava, Saarinen, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building, the Pompidou Centre, Paul Goldberger, Frank Gehry, Bucky, Frank Lloyd Wright, and even poor old Jøern Utzon (with varying levels of venom or disdain). But there's really nothing that unites these architects or their architecture much beyond the fact that they lived sometime after 1920 or so, or that the buildings were built in the same period; he often seems to confuse or conflate "new", "modern", and "Modern", so while he's quite explicit that the enemy is the Modern Movement (a phrase he uses a lot — capitalised — in the book), it's not really Modernist architecture as such that's the target here, but the direct and indirect effects its ideology and founding concepts are supposed to have had on architects, architecture, and architectural criticism over the years. Which would cover a huge amount of contradictory ground, at least in my estimation: basically just about everything from pure Modernism, through movements and architecture merely influenced by the Modern Movement, to architecture (like the various Postmodernisms) quite explicitly reacting against the Moderns.

He's most concerned about the usability and (social, environmental) suitability of much architecture, and it's difficult not to agree with a lot of what he says, but… The Seagram Building actually looks pretty damn good from the street; he goes for the Opera House in all sorts of ways but misses the sheer banality of everything about it except the sails. The Calatrava bridge I know at first hand is so popular, so appropriate to its placing and intended use, such a pleasant piece of architecture, that it has kids running around touching it and playing on it, it has people (like me) visiting from all over the place. The Saarinens I know best — the old TWA terminal at JFK, and the main terminal at Dulles — are or were pleasnt (fun, even, in the case of the JFK terminal) pieces of work to look at and pass through (it was hardly Saarinen's fault that technology rendered them obsolete over the decades). I know at second hand how annoying the Lloyds building could be to work in (my uncle was a Lloyds underwriter), but it was a bracing sight from the street, one I visited many times just to take it all in. The Pompidou Centre's rightly one of the most visited buildings in Paris, a joy to behold; it may be a failure as an art palace or not, but it's a much-visited and much-enjoyed public building.

But the real crime of Modernist architecture wasn't the failure of Utzon to get a working opera house on Bennelong Point or the unsuitability for workers of various capital-A Architecture projects like the LLoyds building, but the destruction of community and the effect on domestic architecture of things like council flats and inner city projects. The most depressing bits of London in the 1980's were never the stupid Modernist office blocks or monuments, they were the tall grey instantly- and permanently-stained concrete council towers dishearteningly visible almost everywhere you looked. That's not so much a failure of Modern architecture as vast multiple failures of city planning, empathy, and imagination.

But what does he actually like? What's his vision of a good architecture? He plays this way too close to his chest, and you finish the book wondering if he has anything much in mind beyond Prince Charles's earnest quaintness or a sort of vague resurrection of earlier eras in new tech guise.

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July 25, 2009

Bucky Balls

"If man is to continue as a successful pattern-complex function in universal evolution, it will be because the next decades will have witnessed the artist-scientist's spontaneous seizure of the prime design responsibility and his successful conversion of the total capability of tool-augmented man from killingry to advanced livingry — adequate for all humanity" (Buckminster Fuller quoted in "New Views on R. Buckminster Fuller", ed. Chu and Trujillo, Stanford, a book I recently bought at Moe's).

It's hardly original, but it's difficult not to feel that the biggest attraction Buckminster Fuller had for the younger counterculturalists of the 60's and 70's (and their epigones) was that — like any good prophet — his real meaning lay in the general incomprehensibility of his words. They could mean any damn thing you wanted them to mean, since by almost any conventional measure, they meant nothing at all. He spoke his own unique language, but made them feel that he spoke their language, at least in mental translation (his work certainly loses something in the original). The woolliness of the words just helped mask the genially-ruthless technocratic utopianism at the heart of it all (and running through the muddled and often far less genial veins of some of the countercultural movements who used or revered him). A sort of foggy glossolalia born in a collision of Futurism and the Burned-Over District, perhaps. Much of it's not even wrong, as they say.

I think another big part of the reason Fuller was so popular with the US 60's and 70's counterculture is that with things like the breathtakingly hubristic World Game he offered the promise of technology replacing politics. Politics is difficult, it's messy (and often a real come-down for nice middle class countercultural kids), but technology just tends to happen, and usually with a logic that would have been deeply congenial to a lot of white middle-class American kids of the time. Technology provides objective answers without that awful to-and-fro that politics demands; but when the answer to every question seems to be "geodesic dome" or "tensegrity" or "technologists know best", you can't help feeling that the questions might have been a little restricted or that there are some questions you just can't ask.

(And if there were ever a real example of the Canonical American Name it'd be "R. Buckminster Fuller". When I was a kid I just assumed the "Buckminster Fuller" part was a double-barreled last name (like maybe "Sebag-Montefiori"), and that our Bucky was so important no one ever used his first name).

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April 13, 2009


Today's Google news is reporting Peter Zumthor's Pritzker Prize in its entertainment section — alongside such gems as Woody Harrelson's zombie attack and Billy Bob Thornton's latest contretemps. This is as it should be, I guess.

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January 11, 2009

No True Scotsman

In a rather over-the-top and unintentionally-funny article for Design Observer, the great Murray Moss flails away at design windmills with whole paragraphs of things like:
"When he says 'come down a notch or two,' does Mr. Cannell [in an NYT article on design and recession] mean that Design should retreat from its current expansive, ambitious, fearless, exploratory, guild-breaking, all-encompassing plateau, from its hard-won re-positioning in the Arts? And revert back to what? To the perceived mid-century notion of efficiency and comfort?"
Those words seem almost, well, designed to set off the puffery detectors; "fearless, exploratory, guild-breaking, all-encompassing…"? Lordy, it's just design, dammit; and what is design but art harnessed for commerce and / or practicality? Self-importance? Moi?

"Designers and their true supporters have fought hard over the last fifteen years to expand the definition of design, not shrink it." And I guess that those of us who haven't fought hard for quite the same things — the expansion of the Design empire, for one — or bought any of the $10,000 designer chairs Moss mentions as exemplars of Design — just aren't True Supporters. Oh well. It's back to the drawing board for me, I guess….

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September 01, 2008

It's A Dirty Job…

Mars is telling me that "Space Is The Place" (come on guys, you did that one last year) but on Telegraph it's usually more of a void, and in Moe's remainders section I buy one of those unintentionally cute authoritarian tracts on Architecture (with a capital "A"), "New Architecture 5: Truth, Radicality, and Beyond in Contemporary Architecture" (capitalisation normalised for readability), published before-it-all-went-wrong to celebrate the radical future Architecture and Architects were planning for us all back in 2000 (one of the buildings discussed is metaphorically on my front doorstep, so it cuts close to home sometimes). It's got a foreword by Baudrillard (of course!) with whole paragraphs of things like:
Does architecture peter out in its reality, in its references, in its procedures, in its functions, in its techniques? Or does it go beyond all that and lose itself in something else, which is perhaps its own end, or something that might permit it to go beyond its own end? Does architecture exist beyond truth, beyond its own truth, in a sort of radicality that challenges space — rather than controls it — that challenges society in its obedience of its conventions and insititutions, that challenges the very creation of architecture and the creative architect with his illusion of control.
Super! Pure poetry!

Allusive words, meaningless in their ability to mean almost anything; in fact the whole foreword is a sort of densely-packed tar pit of phrases that evaporate when exposed (and that I just know I'm going to return to over and over…). The engineer in me wants to say that these are the words of someone in love with the sound of words (and in love with the sound of themselves); the architect in me says that both the foreword and the tract itself show that it's infinitely easier to construct whole shining cities full of seductive phrases than it is to create a single building worth inhabiting — and seemingly impossible to write simply and thoughtfully about architecture's products from the potential user's point of view….

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May 02, 2008

Learning From Los Angeles

Another Moe's remainder: "California Crazy & Beyond: Roadside Vernacular Architecture" (Jim Heimann, Chronicle Books 2001), a fun, good-natured, and sunny book on programmatic architecture that I devour in a day or two's part-time reading between work assignments. It concentrates mostly on 1920's and 1930's commercial buildings in the urban and suburban bits of the great Southland, the natural habitat for such architecture, but there's plenty to go around elsewhere, including some long-gone weirdos in Oakland, of all places (Berkeley, not surprisingly, didn't really go in for that sort of thing).

It's inevitably missing one of my fave programmatic buildings, the old dinosaur-shaped house that used to lurk in the desert scrub next to the Lucerne Valley Cutoff south of Barstow, a building that's now just littered about the Mojave in a thousand pieces of decayed wood and shot-up plaster in the middle of nowhere, but that used to squat just off the isolated dirt track there with a certain fun humour and rough style (I don't think it was ever completed, but I do remember it at one time being recognisably a dinosaur).

And that's part of what makes this book a pleasure: the reminder of the difference between fun and irony. Postmodernism so often appropriated earlier programmatic architecture for art by wrapping it in irony and sucking the fun out of it; but an essential element of much programmatic architecture is its sense of unforced humour and silliness. Knowing allusions to the originals might be cute and sometimes whimsical, but they're rarely much fun.

And where did they all go? "Who Killed Our Monstrosities?", as an unnamed writer quoted by Heimann puts it. It's hard not to sympathise with that sentiment, but the danger with things like this is nostalgia-driven preservation and even reconstruction; these things really live in their own present, make sense in their original time and place only. When removed, they become self-conscious signs of signs, signs of themselves in effect. But of course the real monstrosities are out there now, waiting for the future to back-validate them. We just don't know it, I guess.

(One of the other little pleasures for me with this book is seeing glimpses of the way Ventura Boulevard used to look like, this so-familiar untidy long strip of a short slice of my life, apparently once dotted with nicely weird and silly buildings in a semi-rural setting, now just the Ur-strip-mall…).

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April 11, 2008

Total Immersion

William Mitchell's "e-topia: 'Urban Life, Jim — But Not As We Know It'" (MIT, 1999, bought as the usual remainder at Moe's): a book as dated in its hip cultural references and words as the phrase "Mondo 2K" (a phrase he actually uses; I admit to once knowing someone briefly associated with all that) or the word "e-topia" (or the Matrix, which it tries to use as an exotifier with the same leaden academic effect it usually provokes in the non-academic), a book that breathlessly (and often perceptively) attempts to explore a wired utopia and its meanings (for architects and planners, mainly), while glossing a bunch of things like security (in any of its shaded meanings — apparatus vs. security from such an apparatus, for example), or crime, or terrorism, or even the huge energy budget of the revolution.

For example, Mitchell talks a fair bit about the future of immersive technologies, smart spaces, etc., but doesn't spend a lot of time discussing what it is you're most likely to be immersed in — advertising (think "Minority Report"; does anyone think totally immersive (and absolutely intrusive) smart advertising is not a part of our future?) — and what those smart spaces will be up to (clever ways to keep tabs on what you're doing and how to get you to do things you might otherwise not do). In something of a throw-away paragraph he envisages controlling all the smart appliances in your home with a simple palm-sized remote control, but misses the obvious flipside to this: the ability to remotely control the smart appliances in someone else's home, or even control a person in their smart immersive home with a similar little control. It's the human here who's most likely to be the smart appliance (does anyone really think that isn't part of our future?). Similarly, when Mitchell breathlessly describes his wired dwellings bringing choice and opportunity to the inhabitants, he honestly just doesn't seem to understand that being wired is to be tethered, something that can just as easily take away choice and opportunity from the masses. Something he might want to consider is that he's really describing the updating of Corb's "machine for living in" to "machine for selling in" or even a "machine for conforming in".

He barely seems to notice the flipside to even the basic network technologies he seems to see as liberating: by being immersed, you're also trivially trackable, absolutely awash in surveillance and coercion opportunities. Again, he simply doesn't discuss what it is you'd be so effectively immersed in, nor who makes and controls that immersive reality. He (weirdly) misses a couple of crucial dimensions to these network technologies: he has little or nothing on that creepy convergence of surveillance and marketing that's probably the biggest thing in Web 2.0, for example. Let's face it: from the implementers' point of view, the web's really just a way to sell browsers to product pushers; the government and other surveillance is just a happy by-product of the mechanism to do that.

It's not that the vision is chilling, it's that it's chilling that he can't see the downside, or just dismisses it with a wave of the hand. The question for an academic like Mitchell who's claiming to explore a wired (or, increasingly, wireless) future is whether he wants to be complicit in — or a booster for — the sort of immersive smart wired utopia he glosses. All I can say, based on this book alone, is that he's not exactly a reliable guide to the future — bring your own map and cross-check repeatedly.

(There's a less than subtle hint of where he's coming from academically in his use of the word "telematics", a word not usually encountered in the field itself, a word that's more usually found in the original French, or nestled translated in thickets of language more appropriate to a virtual reality and rhizomes (another such word he uses) than in the world of networks or systems engineering I've inhabited for a long while now).

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March 05, 2008

Guild House

Design Observer's Dmitri Siegal recently wrote a short piece on Philadelphia's Guild House, mentioning in particular the necessary relationships with the famous Venturi text(s) and the way the context for both the building itself and the original texts have changed in interesting ways. A nice, succinct, and thoughtful read.

But like so much writing on architecture, it doesn't ask the real questions: what was (is) it like to live in the Guild House? How does that experience compare with the original architect's vision (if any)? What was (is) it like to live with it in your neighbourhood? How does it affect life in the neighbourhood? How does that relate to the architect's original vision (if any)? How much does the architecture (as opposed to just the construction) interact with or impose on all these things?

You know, the hard questions, the ones usually elided in architectural writing. Treating architecture solely as a species of visual design (somewhat forgivable in Design Observer, I guess), means treating the true end users — the tenants, the neighbouring residents, passers-by, etc. — as decoration, at best. And treating a particular building solely as a rhetorical phrase in a historical discourse of ideas and images writes the end users out of the story completely.


December 23, 2007

Burn Baby Burn

"Architecture Must Burn", Aaron Betsky and Erik Adigard (Thames and Hudson, 2000, recently picked up in Moe's as a remainder): I'm a sucker for this sort of unintentionally earnest manifesto, teetering back and forth between the twee and the seriously ludicrous. Like nearly all manifestos, it's reactionary and utopian; and like all utopias, totalitarian; in this case in a creepy "we really care" sort of way. A sort of insistent dog barking in the intellectual night somewhere far off that you can't quite dismiss, despite the lack of overt meaning. There's some breathtaking writing here, spoiled by an almost contantly breathless tone and general incoherence; the book itself's a design disaster, in that very self-conscious and rather forced late-1990's way (and in a way that very deliberately becomes an issue in itself).

And I think I'll scream if I see such hip imports as "strange attractors" in a non-science context again; it's a sort of token exoticism or cargo cult that lets the writer indulge in a shell game of equivocation, where the smokescreen of vagueness lets you get away with giving the impression of profundity and depth without ever pinning things down, even generally. If you're vague enough, you can get away with convincing almost anyone that you've said something both profound and agreeable.

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November 16, 2007

St. Herbert

Herbert Muschamp died recently. I can't top Michael Bierut's article on him in Design Observer: he was required reading, but not always for the reasons he wanted to be read, all those "outré movie references, inappropriate sexually-charged metaphors, sweeping incontrovertible declarations, and, of course, the requisite roll call of the moment's hottest names" (as Bierut puts it). I think I've always much preferred Paul Goldberger as an architectural critic.

About the only thing that surprised me in the various obits was Muschamp's age: hardly young (59), but much younger than I'd mentally pegged him as. He seemed to be a holdover from the Europe of the immediate post-War, if not maybe even Weimar; my mental image of him was of some sort of cravatted roue in his eighties or even nineties, holding forth to the entranced younguns about pre-War European Modernist pioneers and artists. Yes, too cruel, I know; but nothing I say here can detract from his overall influence or effect, and hell I enjoyed his writing (if not always his message).

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October 11, 2007


In his "Design and Crime", Hal Foster takes Adolf Loos's famous "the evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from utilitarian objects" (and the associated "ornament and crime" tirade about civilization and purity) seriously, as ideological baggage. But if you're going to take a statement like that seriously and at face value (rather than as the drily amusing polemical provocation I tend to think it is), you have to take it seriously as a psychological phenomenon rather than politically or ideologically. You're not going to get too far into why such slogans seduce without delving deeply into the subconsciouses of the sort of people for whom Purity and Authenticity appeal so much. It's about Belief, not about ideology. In such people, Belief prefigures ideology (but again, given Loos's actual output, you can't help feeling he's just stirring; like Schoenberg, he protests about protesting just a little too much).

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October 06, 2007

All Warm And Fuzzy

In the Milano they're playing a light, unfamiliar, flowing Spanish-language cover of the old Pretenders song "Back On The Chain Gang" with a very different set of lyrics in the chorus, I can't get it out of my head all day, later I discover it's one of Selena's, something I hadn't quite expected or known. Down Telegraph, Mars is now telling me I make their sweaters feel all fuzzy, which seems a little unlikely, but they know best. You can't argue with an oracle.

At Moe's I pick up two remaindered coffee table books on late modern (but not Modern) architecture: I seem to look to architecture (rather than photography or painting, etc.) for visual inspiration nowadays. And not just the architecture in books, but those concrete images talking to each other across the streets of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, and Los Angeles… (there's not a lot of capital "A" Architecture in the Bay Area, so you have to go looking for architecture in the small, in the unexpected detailing above a shopfront in Oakland's uptown district, or the way the Transamerica Pyramid is so often visible at street level only by reflection, or in the overall effect of a streetful of shabby Victorian terraces). There's more to chew on there than in most of those capital "A" art books I can't help also browsing….

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June 23, 2007

Sustenance (Vision On The Small Scale)

Tucked away between the (sometimes admirable, and even occasionally lucid) social jargoneering pieces in Audacity.org's glossy book "Sustaining Architecture in the Anti-Machine Age" there's a small piece by Foster and Partners, "Challenging Assumptions About Cities Of The Future", describing a mooted Millenium Tower for Tokyo (yes, it — like so much of this sort of thing — was written Before It All Went Wrong). 170 storeys high, 2km offshore, a major piece of engineering, Architecture on a Corbusian scale. I can't tell if it's there as an illustration of sustainable architecture or as an anti-illustration — it just sits there, much like the tower itself would in Tokyo Bay, sui generis and a little incomprehensible (or all too comprehensible, maybe).

In all the diagrams and words there's not a single sentence — no visible thought at all — to what it might actually be like to live or work in something like this. Not Foster's concern, I guess, which isn't as surprising as it not being the concern of a book about architecture and sustainability: there's more to sustainability than simple resource in / out equations. There's also the question about whether life's worth sustaining inside such a tower, of how one would sustain one's mental, social, cultural, and physical life in such a machine for living, of how it might help sustain the surrounding environment, society, and culture.

Architects have an implicit contract with the inhabitants of their mooted buildings and with the people who inhabit the surrounding area. Good architectural proposals should grapple with what it's like to live or work in the building being proposed, what it's like to walk around it, what it's like to approach it from different angles, what sort of narratives the architect has in mind for daily life in the building, what it might be like to stand on the 150th floor and look out (or not), what it might be to spend an entire life in such a building. A good architect ought to be able to articulate what end users — inhabitants, customers, visitors, bystanders, etc. — would dislike as well as like about the building and the uses they're forced or chose to make of the building.

Vision on the small scale, in other words, the hardest part to get right (there are none so blind as those with Vision).

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May 14, 2007

Snugly Iconic

Botta's SFMOMA building, snugly familiar after all these years just off Mission, so often (as in the Wikipedia article) referred to as "iconic". But for me it's not the Botta that's iconic, it's the beautiful graceful old Pacific Telephone building behind it that's the icon — the museum would be diminished greatly without that pale tall backdrop setting it off in off-centred contrast, growing out of it organically as you get the canonical glimpse of it from Yerba Buena gardens. Iconic's not the word, then, but there's something nicely generous and self-effacing about the way the museum manages to draw attention to its background (or the way the space around Third and Mission works) rather than to itself.

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December 29, 2006

Lifestyle Lofting

Yes, I live in a loft. Very passe. But I need the high ceilings and the undivided space for my photo studio and business, and I can (mostly) put up with the noise (it's jammed between a freeway and a major local road, and contains a bunch of extremely loud bands and other 24 hour noise-makers), the pollution (it's in Industrial East Oakland, and also in the middle of the cement-making capital of the Bay Area, and the steady stream of container trucks on the surrounding roads heading for the Port doesn't help, either), the isolation (you can't just walk anywhere — you have to plan things like shopping or visits to friends well ahead of time), and the inevitable taunts about living a cliche.

The loft's in an old box factory down by the Estuary. It's one of the first loft conversions in the area (late 1980's, I think), and unlike the later purpose-built lofts that have started to infest the area, it's got a certain style, and is aimed squarely at people like me who need a live / work space rather than just a trendy home (most of the units around me are inhabited by people who also run businesses or art studios in those units). The flavour of the place comes through in the commercial lease I have for my unit: among the other standard lease items, it prohibits me from having more than 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel in my unit without the owner's written approval, and no lathes, milling machines, or other heavy equipment are to be permanently installed without similar approval; on the other hand, it explictly allows me to do whatever I like to the interior, including installing new rooms, floors, etc, without notice. I've been here for years now, long enough to be considered almost an old-timer by the other tenants, and I have one of the larger spaces — not quite the sun-splashed red brick and redwood beams of the California Cliche, but near enough to be bearable.

More importantly, the location tends to discourage the inevitable lifestyle lofters — that well-intentioned plague that started in the mid-nineties and nearly ruined lofts for the rest of us by pricing us out of the market. Sometime around then people started to see lofts depicted as huge hip bright sunny spaces on TV or in movies, and simultaneously large developers started converting derelict factories or building new purpose-built buildings (a.k.a "loftominiums" and / or "instant tenements") in rougher neighbourhoods to house the hordes of people who convinced themselves that loft living is a lifestyle choice, an accessory to a certain sub-yuppie or wannabe-artist life (i.e. often enough, the sort of people who think art is a lifestyle or choice rather than a calling or compulsion...).

The lifestyle lofters we see typically can't afford to live in San Francisco (no one can), so they end up here in Oaktown, which is now Loft Central thanks to Mayor Jerry Brown (Our Beloved Leader) and people like me (but see this East Bay Express story for some of the pitfalls). The ones we get in our building typically last exactly the length of their initial lease and move out the next day (or even break their leases after a month or two), vowing never to live in a loft again, or moving on to one of the purpose-built luxury lifestyle lofts closer to Downtown or the Warehouse District, a district now almost devoid of real warehouses (or small businesses and artists, for that matter), most of them having been converted into expensive lifestyle lofts over the past few years). They move in here with little appreciation for just how difficult it can be to live in a real loft, little appreciation of just how drafty, leaky, noisy, cold, hot, dirty, and crime-ridden lofts like this are in real life, little appreciation for just how much work you have to do to make something like this a livable space (it took me nearly two years to get this place comfortable; it's still a work in progress).

The guys who moved in across the corridor from me late last year lasted less than three months, leaving in a bemused rush for a quieter, nicer, less-polluted lifestyle loft up the Embarcadero. I guess the sense of space and the high airy ceilings here just weren't enough. Especially after having had your car broken into several times during that time, or having been woken up for the fourth time the previous night by the assault stereos or mini-sideshows on the street outside, or having one of your tires punctured yet again by the industrial debris left behind by an overloaded junk truck, or having had to negotiate your way past the homeless encampment next to the garbage piled up against the freeway overcrossing every other day or so. That's (the) life, I guess.

(For me, there are two fairly reliable indicators of whether a loft is a lifestyle loft or not: firstly, the amount of unused or unusable vertical space, and secondly, whether your lease prohibits the total or large-scale rearrangement of the loft's internal layout and setup. Clearly you need vertical space (at least 4 metres) for a working loft — for lighting, for studio backdrops, for those large pieces you're working on, for storage, etc. — but if the loft is more like an atrium, with lots of vertical space you can't conceivably use or that's just sitting there with no intention of being used, then it's probably a lifestyle loft, more concerned with light and "space" than with working space. Similarly, if you can't just decide one day to rip up the existing internal walls, or put in some new walls, or take down that awful-looking long wide ledge the previous tennants built half-way up the side wall (what were they thinking?), then it's a lifestyle loft. Ideally, you start with a loft that's just an undivided and unadorned space, and make it into what you want it to be, with explicit permission in the lease to do whatever you want — lifestyle lofts, on the other hand, usually come pre-arranged with nice domestic layouts (rooms, stairways, alcoves, etc.), and any attempt to change the layout non-trivially brings the landlord (or community association) down on you like a ton of bricks. Another very telling sign is the flooring: like many working lofts around here, my floor is just a huge grey-painted deep flat concrete slab that extends under the entire factory; you can do whatever the hell you like with it, including bolting heavy equipment to it or moving gear around on it, without fear of damaging the floor or causing structural problems (and the slab in my place tends to moderate temperatures in both summer and winter, which is a plus). Lifestyle lofts, on the other hand, typically have nicely-polished hardwood floors that you can't do anything with or on without worrying about scratches or having that heavy lighting stand buckle the floor).

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