Daily Dose: Henderson Waves

Add to TwitterLauded as one of the most beautiful pedestrian bridges, the Henderson Waves bridge in Singapore is a popular tourist attraction. It sits 120 feet above the roadway and connects Mount Faber Park and Telok Blangah Hill Park in organic, undulating arcs and dips.

Henderson Bridge, Singapore

The main structural components of this bridge are curved steel ribs which provide the framing for the “waves.” Yellow balau wood slats were used for the decking and glow in the LED light displays at night. Inside each upward arc is a covered alcove with seating areas for pedestrians.

Henderson Wave Bridge alcove

Look for more posts on famous or innovative bridges on MTI’s Daily Dose in the coming days!






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Daily Dose: Minarets Banned

Add to TwitterOn November 29th of this year, a majority of Swiss voters opted to ban any future construction of minarets, the prayer towers that are built connected or adjacent to mosques. Though the four existing minarets will remain, the amendment to the constitution supported by the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) raises some eyebrows and many deeper concerns.

The "Blue Mosque", Turkey

European countries have been struggling to assimilate Muslim immigrants over the past decades. French and German states have discussed banning the burqa (full-body covering worn by Muslim women that is considered oppressive) and the hijab (head covering worn by Muslim women, popular especially among young adults) from the workplace or school environments in an effort to minimize any political influence by these individuals. A similar sentiment was expressed by Swiss supporters of the decision to ban minaret construction. According to followers of the SVP, minarets are political symbols that indicate observance of the sharia, a Qur’an-based legal system. In actuality, they are meant to identify places of worship and serve as a daily call to prayer for Muslims, a practice that has not been instigated at any of the four minarets in Switzerland for fear of retribution.


This is not the Swiss People’s Party’s first expression of a racially-laden political agenda. Posters made by the SVP in the past have also expressed fear and hatred of an “encroaching” Muslim population. White supremacy can be clearly read from the graphic symbolism (one anti-immigration poster showed a white sheep kicking a black sheep out of the country). Their claims that minarets are symbols of a race or religion of people refusing to fully assimilate into the dominant culture may be correct – but the SVP’s assertion that this expression of identity harbingers terrorist attacks or imposing, extremist political views is absurd. What I find much more concerning are the unsettling similarities between the Swiss’ banning of mosque minarets and the German Nazis’ destruction of Jewish synagogues and temples. Fear in uncertain economic and political times is expected and understandable; however, it must not be allowed to escalate to discriminatory governmental acts.

I’d like to end with a quote from the LA Times blog in which the author disputes the claim that minarets are symbolic of a minority unwilling to participate in traditional Swiss culture.

…building a minaret in a European city is arguably the opposite of a secessionist or defiant act. When it rises among steeples and chalets in a Swiss alpine village, of course, a minaret is an expression of separation from, and maybe defensiveness against, the dominant culture. But it also signals an interest in joining the mixture of building types that make up any cityscape – in lining up in public view. If a veil steps back and is silent, a minaret steps forward and has something to say.

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Daily Dose: The Biedermeier Style

Add to TwitterI’ve been wanting to write about the Biedermeier movement for a few weeks now, but have been hesitating as it applied primarily to interior decorations and furniture design rather than architecture/construction. However, it was highly influential for both the Art Deco and the Bauhaus movements and is currently experiencing a resurgence in popularity in both American and European aesthetics.

Biedermeier Sofa

When the Biedermeier style first reached its height, it was during the years of 1815-1848 in Vienna, spreading to the rest of Europe. It was recognized as a style for the growing middle classes since it emphasized both the functionality and elegance of everyday objects and tools. Furniture design, especially, took on a highly utilitarian aesthetic with its clean lines and minimal ornamentality. It’s clear for contemporary viewers to see how this style has regained favor in the Western home – everything from sans-serif fonts to sleek kitchen appliances are capitalizing on clean lines and the beauty of simplicity.

Biedermeier Lounge Sofa

Architecture was also influenced by the Biedermeier movement. The Stadttempel in Vienna, Austria is a picturesque example of this early-1800s style and is one of the only Jewish synagogues from pre-WWII times that remains standing. Designed by Joseph Kornhäusel, the Stadttempel’s façade connects it to the surrounding buildings on the Viennese street – in accordance with past city ordinances. Since it couldn’t be destroyed without also demolishing the adjacent buildings, it was the only synagogue in Vienna to escape destruction in WWII. The image below shows the “basic” sophistication of the interior dome of the synagogue. The blonde woods and marbles accented by rich cherry and mahogany strips are characteristic of the time.

Stadttempel in Vienna, Austria

Residential construction was also influenced by the Biedermeier movement; houses were set farther back from the street in an effort to increase privacy, a growing desire of the upper-middle class society.

If I had my “druthers”, my home would be filled with the arcing, clean-cut lines of the Biedermeier style furniture and utensils. The colors are brilliant and the pieces are beautifully made… I’ve always thought the style seemed a century ahead of its time. At least it’s coming back!

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Daily Dose: Gingerbread Houses

Add to TwitterYesterday was our first real Iowan snow of the season. Holiday lights are up, cars are skidding along the slushy roads and everyone I saw on the way to the post office today looked like they were itching to sing me a carol. The first rounds of: “If I don’t see you, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” have also begun; I couldn’t help but be influenced by all these seasonal trappings! Thinking of the Daily Dose, I of course wondered if anyone (or how many people, rather) had constructed a life-sized gingerbread house. Turns out, it’s not as popular as I thought. Disney pulled through – their gingerbread bake shop is quite impressive. I did come across some other homes, though, that used highly unusual building materials and have included those as well. Read on –

Bottle House

Mortar and Bottle Wall

When I think of the word “recycle”, I generally conjure up images of plastics and papers by the curb, taken off to be turned into pulp and then… something new. Sometimes those items can be re-cycled through our lives without being made completely unrecognizable. Take bottle houses, for example. Most popular in the early 1900s (Nevada especially) when timber was scarce, these homes were built using empty beer bottles and mortar. The oldest remaining house of its kind used over 50,000 bottles in its construction!

Petrified Wood in Agate House

The Agate House in Petrified Forest National Park is also something of an anomaly, as far as building material goes. Petrified wood, which is preserved when silica in the groundwater crystallizes into quartz, is the primary material of the walls. The Agate House is meant to be a reconstruction of a pueblo – at least in design and layout.

Agate House

Disney Gingerbread House

And finally, the elusive life-sized gingerbread house. It is housed in Disney’s Grand Floridian Lobby and actually contains a real bake shop. The gingerbread for the house required 1,050 lbs. of honey, 600 lbs. of powdered sugar, 35 lbs. of spices and 140 pints of egg whites. Whew. It’s good to know that such a thing actually exists though, isn’t it? I wonder if anyone’s ever managed to filch a bit of the siding…

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Daily Dose: Paolo Soleri

Add to TwitterWhat’s the solution to urban sprawl? How do we maximize our environmental resources and minimize our human impact? These issues are causing architects, builders and buyers to rethink the way the built environment operates in our daily lives. Paolo Soleri, an Italian architect, has been highly influential in this arena and his achievements are the subject of today’s Daily Dose by MTI.

Soleri was born in Turin (Torino), Italy in 1919 and completed his Doctorate at Polytechnic University of Torino in 1946. Shortly afterwards, he moved to the United States and spent a couple years, from 1947-1949,  apprenticed to Frank Lloyd Wright. Influences from Wright and Antoni Gaudí can be seen in Soleri’s later organic built environments. After his apprenticeship with Wright, Soleri moved to Arizona where he developed Arcosanti, a minicity that is designed to support 3-5,000 people on just 10 acres of land.

Arcosanti by Paolo Soleri

Arcosanti is the primary project of the Cosanti Foundation, a not-for-profit organization started by Soleri and his wife. This urban environment has been under construction since 1970 and is based in Cordes Junction in central Arizona. Soleri’s vision behind this compact way of living is inspired by nature and its general rule that a lack of density represents inefficiency. Called “arcology” (a combination of architecture and ecology), this method of building aims to avoid urban sprawl, emphasize vertical vs. horizontal growth and maximize community interaction with the natural environment without producing a negative impact or requiring a major draw on natural resources.

Paolo Soleri

The goals of Arcosanti are only the beginning for Soleri. In 1969 he published “Arcology: The City in the Image of Man,” in which he described compact cities that would support anywhere from 15,000 to 6 million people. Cars were not allowed, which allowed Soleri to redesign the navigation and orientation aspects of these potential living environments. Whether or not these plans will be brought to fruition remains to be seen, but Soleri has certainly outlined an environmentally responsible plan that is worth living up to.

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Daily Dose: Building In a Bag

Add to TwitterConcrete technology isn’t necessarily something that you’d expect to be continually advancing, improving. I mean, you just add water, pour and let it set up, right? Perhaps not. Earlier in the Daily Dose, I wrote about self-healing concrete whose cracks mend after being doused with a few good rainstorms. Today, we have habitable concrete structures – or “buildings in a bag.”

Concrete Canvas Shelter

Called “concrete canvas shelters” (CCS), these hardened tent-like buildings are made of concrete cloth. Only water and air pressure are required to build CCS structures which are approximately 25 square meters and can be set up by two people without training in under an hour. The concrete cloth remains workable for two hours; the buildings themselves are ready to be used in just one day.

There are a number of factors that make concrete canvas shelters more desirable than traditional cloth-based tents. They are designed to withstand berming (sand bags, fill materials, snow), offer additional environmental protection, security, medical capabilities and insulation. CCS constructions last about ten years and are fireproof.

Concrete Cloth

The material pictured on the left is concrete cloth, a cement-impregnated fabric. In a CCS, this cloth is bonded to a plastic inner structure which is inflated by use of an electric fan. Once the structure is self-supporting, it’s anchored to the ground with pegs. Then the builder simply sprays the CCS with water, allowing the concrete to cure. Access holes can be cut into the dome-like building to allow for more versatility in function. Concrete canvas shelters have been used for disaster relief, military and commercial purposes.

Inside a CCS

I’m pretty sold on this long-lasting, easy-to-assemble solution to the need for quick, simple living spaces. After seeing the picture above, however, one question remains: can anything be hung on the walls? I’m guessing not… still, I think I’d be getting some streamers to decorate somehow!

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Daily Dose: Brunelleschi’s Duomo

Add to TwitterThe “duomo” (dome) of Florence’s Santa Maria del Fiore is more than just a popular tourist attraction. It is also Filippo Brunelleschi’s (its designer’s) most lauded architectural achievement and was, until recent years and technologies, the largest dome in the world. At 143 feet in diameter and using over 4 million bricks, Brunelleschi’s duomo remains the largest masonry dome ever built.

Brunelleschi's Duomo

The above image shows the stunning red tiled duomo from the streets of Florence. As you can see, the rest of the cathedral’s façade is done in green and white marble, characteristic of Italian renaissance church architecture.

In 1418, the city of Florence held a competition for the design of the dome. Lorenzo Ghiberti (famed for his “Gates of Paradise” panels on the cathedral’s baptistry doors) and Filippo Brunelleschi were the primary contenders. Brunelleschi’s design triumphed and construction began. Since flying buttresses were not used in Florentinian architecture and all of the trees in Tuscany couldn’t provide an adequate amount of wood for traditional centring scaffolding, Brunelleschi had to invent a variety of techniques to make this enormous undertaking possible.

Duomo exterior

First, the dome rested on the drum and not the roof of the cathedral. Its double-shell design allowed it to support itself as construction progressed. The workers were able to sit on the inner shell while building the outer one, thus removing the problem of the dome supporting their weight. Brunelleschi had the bricks laid in the innovative herringbone pattern so that weight was redirected to the ribbed supports and not thrust directly downward to the ground. He also invented machines that were able to lift large stones during construction; these devices were valuable contributions to the masonry profession.

Today, visitors can hike up endless spiral staircases (I have never before – or since – experienced such vertigo!) and walk along the inside of the frescoed dome. They can also climb to the lantern at the top of the dome for a breathtaking view of the red roofs of Florence and the nearby campanile (bell tower). I highly recommend taking in this remarkable bit of history!

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