Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I wear my sunglasses...

43/365 New Shades
Originally uploaded by paul&steph
Driving to Baltimore last week, I heard a random country song... Something about - if I could go back and just say yes to whatever my dad told me to do, I'd do it. You know the whole adage - parents are always right. Blah, blah, blah.

As it turns out, the adage and the unnamed country singer are dead on.

For years, my mom has told me to get prescription sunglasses. For years, I have worn sunglasses over my regular glasses... and have looked classy while doing so, no doubt.

That is until this year. I am a grown up. I have prescription sunglasses... And, by golly, my mom was right. These new sunglasses have changed my life. I feel like a normal person.

The cherry on top of this 'my mom was right' sundae? I told our friend, Trevor, about my new sun specs, and he went out immediately and purchased some... Guess what? Within five minutes of wearing, his life was changed too.

The moral of the story: prescription sunglasses are all that, a bag of Ruffles with ridges and a bowl of sour cream and onion dip. If you wear glasses but not prescription sunglasses, you're missing out!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Swiss Misadventures

Well for the first and last time (at least until we come back) here in Alicante, I feel like I’m back in the saddle of my dear paulinspain adventure logs. Of course I’ve had a few previous posts, but the post-trip travel report (brimming with all sorts of exciting architectural geekiness that you all could not know or care less about) was really my bread and butter on my previous spanish journey. I was having to describe to wifey last night how these things are both a cherished hobby and loathsome chore at the same time for me. Photo editing is incredibly fun for me when I’m doing it at my own pace and for my own purposes. Though I love snapping photos and fiddling around with them, I do not enjoy as much having to do them while under the gun of my 5 merciless readers. Anyhoo, I’m trying out some new delivery methods to remedy the fact that my previous website did not permit full resolution downloads and Blogger accounts are not set up for massive photo warehousing. Also, I am enamored with Flickr.

So we went to Switzerland. And though the Sandersons have not yet been to Paris, Rome, Florence, Athens, Istanbul, Vienna, Prague, Berlin, Marrakech or many other warmer or more renowned locales for European traveling, why on earth did we decide to Switzerland? Furthermore, why did we decide to focus our journey on Basel with only a brief stay in Zürich and without a second thought to Geneva, Lucerne or Bern? The two reasons are dirt cheap airfare direct from Alicante on Ryanair and the aforementioned architectural geekiness.

Basel is the past and present home of the starchitect superduo Herzog and de Meuron! My parents know about these guys because we went together to their additions and renovations of an old powerhouse: The Tate Modern in London. They are otherwise known for the upcoming ‘birdsnest’ stadium for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the de Young museum in San Francisco and a global portfolio of landmark buildings. There are at least 20 buildings by them in the area, which is INTENSO. The unfortunate thing about these 20 or so buildings is that they are not all on the same street (which architects should consider as it would be way easier to visit them all) and because many of them are houses, train-depots and other non-public projects, one does not get the opportunity to gaze in awe at their interiors. That is AOK, because we still saw plenty, and these particular architects are known much more for their manipulation of skin then space. Which is to say that though many projects have plenty of spatial poetics to ponder, looking from the outside is often the best part. Definitely check out the curves on the SBB signal tower and see the Schaulager and St. Jakob’s Stadium showing their skin in my photos!

As you know from wifey’s posts, our adventure did not end at the banks of the Rhein. Crossing over to Germany (which also does not begin at the banks of the Rhein…kinda weird) on a Swiss bus is the city of Weil am Rhein and the Vitra chair factory. After a fire burned down their entire complex, Vitra translated their design ethos from chairs to buildings and created an all-star architectural theme park of sorts. To run down the name-dropping list of amazing Vitra contributors: Grimshaw, Siza, Gehry, Ando, Hadid, and recent acquisitions of work from Buckminster Fuller and Jean Prouve. Not to mention they are already constructing a large project by H&dM that will be finished in 2009. I have to say that the Vitra museum building by Gehry had a serious impact on my young architectural mind as a 1st year student, and the Le Corbusier exhibit was surprisingly spellbinding given my historical preference for Mies van der Rohe in architecture’s Ford vs. Chevy debate. (Sorry no interior photos…they are VERBOTEN and difficult to be sneaky with when using a giant DSLR.) The Ando building is a tiny concrete conference center tucked into the earth that anyone can rent out for meetings. I’ve been to his museum in Fort Worth, TX and was a bit disappointed (though no building has much of a chance across the street from the Kimbell Art Center). This, on the other hand, was one gorgeous project that really diverges from the ‘buildings as a collection of sculptures in the landscape’ theme of the Vitra Campus. I mean, they shipped a Bucky Dome and a Prouve gas station onto the site just to add to the collection. The big bragging right of Vitra, though, is to be the patron of the first REAL building (interiors, furniture and weird sculpture thingies with stairs DO NOT COUNT!) by Zaha Hadid. Zaha is an Iraqi born architect who practices from London and was the first woman to win the Pritzker Prize (architecture’s Nobel prize). She was famous for over a decade without really building anything because she made AMAZING paintings as architectural drawings. Vitra put their money and patience on the line to have her build the campus’s fire station. The building made serious waves and kick started her actual architectural career which is shooting through the stratosphere as we speak. The crazy angular composition became a landmark deconstructivist work and a serious headache for its inhabitants. In less than a year the fireman were removed from their station; complaining of vertigo induced by the canting walls and an inability to run indoors due to the slight grade on all floors. It eventually housed the Vitra chair collection, but less than archival conditions (it was built as a fire station….not a museum) forced that collection into storage. Right now it waits for architecture geeks and Eames fanatics (the Eames exhibit was awesome!) to wander through.

I have seriously mixed feelings about Zaha Hadid, but still wanted to stop by her LandForm1 pavilion which is a few blocks from Vitra. As you have all heard, it was in a bus (not a streetcar) that we relied on the kindness of strangers and ended up at an even more amazing architectural playground: Novartis. I only knew of a few reasons why I wanted to get into Novartis, and I had not actually known that security was so tight before arriving with our four new friends. The secure entrance pavilion is an amazing building that is probably by an architect whose name I respect, but I have no idea who. It features a roof that looks like the wing of a jet that is supported by glass! I saw the glass mullions around the periphery, but it took me a while to realize there was no other structure. AMAZING! Inside, I was dying to see the building by Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa (SANAA), and though Michael’s badge could not get the doors to open, I was not disappointed. This Japanese duo makes any ordinary minimalist look like Liberace, and their absolutely clean style has been making headlines with their recent Toledo Glass Museum. I seriously think that my ability to articulate the motives behind my admiration of SANAA got me the job that I have now, and I was super-stoked to get to see one of their works live. The courtyard in the center of the open-plan office building is GORGE! Our friends told us that the people who work in it hate it because there is way too much natural light and they think the courtyard is a waste of space. Seems a shame to me, but I was impressed. They have serious art and architecture EVERYWHERE though! The employees who drive to work (the parking lot is in France, but the campus is in Switzerland) are forced to enter through a giant and awe-inspiring Richard Serra sculpture, and I notice a Chillida chillin' on one of the many meandering paths through the campus. The Diener and Diener building has a fun multi-colored glass façade and a chunk of authentic, climate-controlled, imported South-American rainforest inside! Right now they are constructing a giant HR building by Gehry as well as new towers by Rafael Moneo, Tadao Ando, Eduardo Souta de Moura, David Chipperfield, Alavaro Siza, and many more (literally too many to remember). They had a row of construction samples for all of them with little plaques is front of each one describing the future building and significance of its architect! (BTW construction samples are done on large and important projects to test the façade…they usually consist of a 10’wide and few story tall chunk of wall, but these were each a 100-200 square foot mini-building with façade a some working laboratories!!!! My boss still doesn’t believe that they exist.) The cool thing about Novartis is that they are not using architecture as a public image tool, but clearly applying good design to the benefit of their employees and the work they do. It is so much more impressive to see these principles at work at Novartis then to go on a guided tour of facilities that only generate tourism.

By the time we hit Zürich, my architourism had slowed down. Partly due to a cold, partly due to the previous days of non-stop sightseeing, and partly due to the fact that Zürich does not have much architecture to offer, I do not have much to say about it. It was a gorgeous city that enchanted me no less than Basel, but wifey gives the better report on our adventures there. We did see a Calatrava train station, so now I’ve seen his work in BOTH of his home towns! (He’s from Valencia but studied and now practices in Zürich) The real highlight was the Freitag flagship store which was as cool as the ‘makes me wanna break the bank and buy it all’ merchandise inside. Recycled-train-car-chitecture is really hip right now and this building pulls it off in a real pure way. It really is just a few such crates stacked up with minimal interior additions. Some faces have been replaced by planes of glass, and one double-height space exists in the entry. The observation deck was super-cool, but since one can feel it sway in the wind, I had to go up it alone.

If you’re still awake and scrolling, congrats for finishing this mind-numbing lecture…er..uh..post. Just don’t complain about me not writing enough!

Friday, November 30, 2007

This is NOT a Switzerland blog.

The title says it all...I am NOT going to blog about Switzerland...at least...yet.

I thought that I would give three important tidbits:

1. Last night I hopped in the boss's car with all of the other work folks and took a drive to Murcia. I was not there to go to IKEA as you all may be thinking, but rather I spent the night anxiously awaiting the arrival of the next tray of delicious canapés. Because of the boss's many friends in the design community and his previous residence in Murcia, we were all invited to the gallery opening for Edra at the designer furniture showroom CUARTA. The furniture was ALRIGHT, but the experience was AMAZING. Hanging out with my South American buddies, chatting up some important patrons of Spanish architecture (the best I could y'know), and chowing down on some seriously fussy and delicous hors d'oeuvres (including but certainly not limited to loads of Jamón Ibérico!) under the spanish sky was one of those surreal experiences which makes me NEVER WANT TO LEAVE!

2. We're leaving. Due to our complete distaste for illegal activities we will be saying 'hasta luego' to Alicante the day before my 90 tourist visa days run out. It is indeed incredibly sad for us, but as the previous spanish phrase indicates, we plan on returning as soon as the Spanish government permits us. To find the best airfare, we are being 'forced' to make a two and a half day layover in Dublin (Gracias a Ireland's EU but non-Schengen status!). We will hopefully load up on the luck of the Irish before we return to Arizona on the 10th.

3. I WILL eventually blog about adventures in Swiss architecture, but that will have to wait for the weekend. Lots of photos to go through and gussy up = Lots of work that I do not have time for!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ode to Fat Kids!

Okay, okay, okay...I know that it has been a while since my last post, and I appear to have left you hanging. How was I to know that there would be such interest? I honestly figured that the only people who would care to know the answers to my Structures 101 quiz would be those who had taken such a class with me and therefore would already know the answers. (That is, all two of the CALA alums who read this...and one of those may be me! Though I believe that the comments from Mike are actually from a one-time architecture student.) Shame on me for underestimating the inquisitiveness of PDaddy and the ability of Mike to find me through an internet version of six degrees of separation. Well, I would love to give you the answers, but it looks like PDaddy has already given it! (If you missed his comment, PDaddy provided a link with explanatory photos that are much better than mine!)

The two structures are CANTILEVERS, which work like kids on a seesaw. If you move the fulcrum (the pivot point on the seesaw) off of center, then you need a fatter kid on the short side of the seesaw due to increased moment (or as Mike guessed with helium...a skinnier kid on the long side). In the case of the tram stop, the fulcrum (the mirrored columns which actually carry the entire weight of the structure...impressive at 8"x24") is FAR off center; leaving 90' floating without support on one side with only 30' on the other. Instead of sitting the 'fat kid' on top of the seesaw, he has been buried underground in the form of a large concrete foundation and tied to the short end of the seesaw with the curlycues that PDaddy noticed. (Though I believe that the straight steel piece is carrying all of the load and the curlycue is merely a narritive device to show the spring-like tension that is occurring there.) As for the steel and glass bars on the interior, the glass ones are indeed lights (which turn the tram stop into AMAZING glowing lanterns at night!) with no structural purpose, while the steel bars compensate for the lack of a bottom plane on the boxes by linking the sides of the boxes, providing lateral support and preventing torsion. WOohOo! Wasn't that a fun lesson?!?!

Well since structures was SUCH an INTERESTING TOPIC and I need to play catch-up with Alicante events, we'll continue your collective structural education!

Early on in the game we were already impressed with ourselves! (José Chilón on the left)

There it is! The second most impressive structure that I have seen in Alicante! It was a temporary installation that was erected for less than an hour in the living room of our Alicante BFFs José y Cecilia two weeks ago. Yes, these are the same two who shared an evening of Chinese food with us, and it turns out that we did not completely scare them off on said evening! The next week we were invited for a DELICIOUS and authentic Peruvian lunch prepared by José in their piso. If you were impressed by our performance with them before, get ready for utter amazement: 8 hours of hanging out at their place! We came early at noon to hang out as they cooked, ate a delicious plate of chicken and potatoes in a bread-thickened sauce of mild-chiles, enjoyed an Argentian dessert (they are always feeding me new varieties of Argentinian cookies and snacks at work), and passed away the afternoon and evening with conversation in Castellano and several games of Jenga.

Cecilia continues the work on our Babel-inspired creation!

The crowning achievement of the night was not even the great time we had and our self-satisfaction in our spanish conversation abilities, but the most amazing Jenga tower that has been or ever will be! This was our final game of the evening which ended in structural failure (as do all games of Jenga) caused by a combination of slenderness-ratio, excessive lateral loads and my wife.

I'll do my best to get back in the blogging groove, but work has been quite busy lately. We finished our housing projects competition and the boss gets back from Boston tomorrow. I only have internet at work, and am usually wanted at home when the work day is over at 9pm....this leaves literally no useful time for blogging. Unfortunately for you, living the Spanish life is much more enjoyable than writing about it, though I have many more semi-exciting stories to relate (some of which you have not already heard about from the more reliable Alicante blog). And I will hopefully have more to come. This week will not be a great one for updates due to the upcoming adventures of the Swiss-Family-Sanderson. But Wifey's description of our UN-style Thanksgiving Extravaganza should hold you for a while!

Thursday, November 1, 2007


Happy All Saints' Day Everyone! Last year I FINALLY went to see the All Souls Procession for "Día de los Muertos" (the Mexican equivalent to this Spanish-Catholic holiday) and it was definitely worth it. So any of you in or near Tucson should definitely check it out...super fun!

OK, now lets get down to business. I know you've all been dying to know what FAMOUS architects I've been hanging around with and what language BLUNDERS I've made lately. Well, I thought that those topics would be separate posts, but unfortunately for me and you those two worlds have recently collided. Yes, come near and I will share with you the story of my recent humiliation in front of Alicante architecture community.

I am holding the card of some
AMAZING Alicante architects that I received from them when I went BY MYSELF to visit their studio. OK, I'm sure that even my friends from school have never heard of these guys, and even my boss is much more widely published, but they are FAMOUS to me.

I had been very familiar with this website before realizing that it is the product of Alicante, and I considered myself very lucky to meet its creator when I interviewed for the job here. (There was a FANTASTIC semester-wrap-up symposium of which he and my boss were the directors.) His site, though mostly in Spanish, is very popular in the international architecture blog world. (Could mine be the next for the big time??? Doubtful.) It was on that blog, that I first heard about the project featured in the images in this post. I had recently returned from my first journey to España, and was bummed that I had not seen it when I was in Valencia (though I never got near Alicante). It turns out that this TRAM stop is not only a few km from our place here, but the first completed project by Subarquitectura.

It also turns out that Subarquitectura are three young guys (as in the oldest of them is only 4 years older than me!) that were once students and employees of my boss. We have had a few great collaborations with them since they formed their own studio, including this widely published project where we shared the bill with some of my architectural IDOLS! (Sounds like a great reality show...¿no?)

Anyways, I was compelled by my boss to call up these guys ON MY OWN, and presumptiously ask if I could swing by their studio to get to know them. I was also to offer my English letter-writing services which have been an asset to my boss. It was GREAT! They are three really cool guys who went through a mini-presentation of every project they have done in the last two years, and they are BAFFLED as to why an American would end up in Alicante. The studio consists of three friends hanging out, getting geeky with architecture and trying to make a living doing it. LIVING THE DREAM in my opinion!

They did ask me to write a letter in English to take advantage of my boss's adventures in Boston. I was supposed to utilize José María's contacts to get them the opportunity to present their work at some school there. After a few weeks of struggling with the vague description of the letter I wrote it and sent it to them and the boss.

WAIT....where's the humiliating language blunder in this?

Turns out that I found out 15 minutes later in a reply email from the Subs (really, many locals refer to Subarquitectura and those who work there as "los Sub") and the boss, that I COMPLETELY misunderstood my letter writing assignment. I was SUPPOSED to know from my conversations with the Subs that they had previously been approached by the director of structures at that school for information about the project you are looking at. He developed a relationship with them and included this project in the structures curriculum in their graduate level courses. I was SUPPOSED to then write a letter as if it were coming from the Subs to endorse a meeting with my boss while he happens to be in Boston. WHOOOPS! (Anyway I THINK that is what I was supposed to do...I have not heard anything since my last submission to them.)

As for the TRAM station. It is INCREDIBLE! Sorry for the grainy photos...I had left the ISO at 1600 from taking a picture of a delicious salad. I will give a special prize to ANYONE who can tell me how these 10'x10'x120' steel cubes are appearing to FLY IN MID-AIR!

Also, because of my advice to him, my boss was able to watch "his" team get their second World Series victory and attend their homecoming parade. I received several text messages and camera-phone pictures from him describing how "AMAIZING" (sic) it was.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday night with Friends (nope...no Chandler)

So it turns out that I am not working all of the time here. I know that you've all seen photos of me outside of the office, but you probably attributed them to wifey's rapidly developing Photoshop mastery. Luckily, my time at the office has yielded more than a few weird images on yesterday's post and a paycheck that might be coming soon. I work with OTHER PEOPLE! These other people also like spending time with people other than themselves. We did get one crazy night with the whole lot of them, but who knew that we had not completely scared them off then?!?

So far the roster of the office has included: Myself, José María (the boss-in Boston), José Luís (the admin assistant), José Chilón, Chema (whose real name is also José María, but is now off at arch. school here in Alicante), Paco (off at arch. school in Pamplona), Cecilia and Ana.

When I interviewed in June, José Chilón was one of three people that I met, and the other two are no longer working here. He is a Peruvian born chico who just moved here in June after two years in Madrid and the previous 16 years in Argentina. Cecilia is his mujer who is a native of Argentina, which can easily be heard in her thick Argentinian accent. The two of them are AWESOME for a few reasons: they are unbelievably nice (actually, most people are here), they have a great understanding of the political struggle of being a non-EU citizen in Spain, their South-American Spanish is MUCH easier to understand than the garbled Alicante version, they are very thrifty in a city full of pricey activities and it is more fun for us newly-weds to hang out with couples. This is why we were so stoked to be invited to dinner with them last night!

restaurant of course! Before you grumble that we're not photographing the storefronts of authentic local places that we'll be taking you to, let me say 6.30€ Where in the world of awesome spanish food did we go? A budget chinesemenú del día....that's all we needed to hear! The food was alright and a total bargain, but the highlight of the evening of 5 straight hours of non-stop conversation in CASTELLANO! That's right! Wifey and I not only held our own, but did a mighty good job of entertaining and understanding. We are still patting each other on the back! What's more is that we did not just talk about coming here, how we don't know Spanish enough and teach about US culture (all common default topics of conversation for foreigners with a limited vocabulary). We just HUNG OUT! That's right! We talked about the weather, buying televisions, horror stories from airlines, maybe a little too much about architecture (sorry Steffa!), college stories, embarrassing moments and things I do that annoy the wifey...that is, we talked about whatever came to mind...that is, we carried on NATURAL CONVERSATION! They even seemed to enjoy it as much as we did!

We got to hear about how José Chilón was once married to a girl that is both Cecilia's cousin and the mother of his brother's children...YIKES! Draw that family tree! We know that they lived in Madrid without TV just long enough to be driven crazy and buy a sweet flatscreen. We shared our feelings on the joys and woes of Spanish culture, and we made probably a million grammatical errors without turning red. All in all...a GREAT night!

Today we've been to our local castle and beach...just because we can!

Hopefully there will be more reports of fun double dates in future issues!

Friday, October 26, 2007

See Paul Work!

First of all, I need to get this out in the open: this blog isn't as fun as my wifey's blog! She has great anecdotal stories of her daily adventures and she presents them with a wit that is all her own. I can't compete with that! My daily adventure is WORK, and the stories I do have are usually presented with way too much background information and all the candor of an IRS audit. I know that you are all looking for a flavor of what life is REALLY like for us, so here it is...me at WORK.

I had already gotten the job when I sent this image to José María. He asked me to participate (from Arizona) in their work for a competition for this enormous University housing project in Zaragoza after my email comments to him made me FAMOUS in the office. (No really...I am immortalized on this site for said comments...look for the "Paul S." and translate/read at your own risk!) He asked me to answer for him the very question that I asked him about his own project, which was "So how does one really move through that building?" I answered him with this diagram which shows circulation in red and social gathering space in orange shining through the translucent white cubes which are the actual dorms. (Since you were all wondering what the HECK this drawing was!...yeah...I know...you're probably still wondering...I tried.) They didn't use this image for the final presentation boards, but it secured me a place in the boss's heart. For this, I was invited EARLY to Alicante.

Actually the above image is the real reason I came to Alicante early. The studio was invited to compete in an exclusive competition for the first of many buildings for a University extension campus here in Alicante. Above is a photo I took of the final "physical model" (as in, not a computer model) which I did not even make a piece of. So this is the answer to your collective question "What do you do all day Paul?" Until this Monday morning I was designing (the initial concept was done before my arrival, but I am given responsibility/freedom to make any developmental design decisions) and drawing floor plans, sections and elevations of this project with two other chicos. I mapped schematic diagrams of mechanical systems, made a gajillion digital models and struggled to understand and communicate these things in my broken spanish. Now isn't that more exciting than surviving an attempted purse-snatching at Pans & Company?!?!? (Actually I WAS there for that!)

These days I'm working on this project. A(nother) competition for subsidized housing projects here in Alicante. We're still working at a conceptual level, but it is SUPER fun! (for someone like me, that is) The orientation and up-down movement of the volumes respond to solar orientation and beachy views, while everything else is to grab as much developable space as zoning will permit. I would totally live in them, except the neighborhood is less dense (aren't I the urbanism junkie?) and a bit far from the city center. My boss is in Boston watching the World Series right now, so things are a bit relaxed around the studio. He will be in Boston until mid-November as he tries to arrange a year long sabbatical for 2008-2009. WooHoo! Party at work! (Actually he is not such a bad guy to have around.)

Still to come....me hanging out with FAMOUS (to me) architects and ceaseless stories of language blunders!