On Friday, July 20, 2001 I was listening, as I usually do, to the radio program Marketplace, which airs weekdays on my local public radio station, KQED.
I was taken aback by a strange, ranting commentary complaining about the new Frida Kahlo stamp included in that day's program. It included a bizarre mention of Norman Rockwell and the thought of the two artists juxtaposed caused a momentary chuckle. But apoplectic right-wing rants being rather commonplace these days, I promptly forgot about it.
That was until the next day when I logged into the WELL and browsing through the GenX conference, came upon Bob Rossney's precision blowtorch of a letter responding to Marketplace (reprinted by permission here).
As flames go, this one was perfectly formed: pure, clean, and blue. It simply inspired me.
And so, in honor of Bob's great letter in response to Van Gordon Sauter's embarrassingly lowbrow diatribe on Marketplace, and yet in a gesture of compromise towards the delicate and ill-formed sensibilities of those Americans who prefer their art with a heapin' helpin' of sugar and/or cheese, I humbly submit my entry for the next Frida Kahlo postage stamp...
Nothing says summer like sandcastles. Palo Alto used to hold a quasi-annual sandcastle contest every summer downtown on the City Hall Plaza.
In the early 1990s I'd always attended the contest and loved all the entries, so when I moved into an office a block away in early 1996 I decided that I'd put together a team to compete as well. Little did I know that we were assembling a brief sandcastle dynasty!
I've always been fascinated with towers, and the Tower of Babel in particular. I'd even used it once in the only advertisement I've ever published (in the 'zine bOING bOING nonetheless! That was before it was a weblog.) I thought that the Tower of Babel would make a fitting symbol for the confusion my interaction design work tries to do away with, as well as a corking fine tower of sand! Along with my longtime pal and cohort, Wayne Yankee, we plotted a very basic strategy and approach. Essentially we planned only the main bulk of the tower and a general idea of how it would look, using old paintings by Hieronymous Bosch like the one in my ad. We bought two huge plastic fake terracotta flowerpots from Home Depot to use as our primary forms. I used a dremel tool to cut the bottoms out of both. The contest was always the same, with 8' x 8' x 8" box frames, filled level with sand. The building time was limited to just two hours, which is very little time to make a very elaborate sandcastle.
The Orbit Team began by digging out a hole, putting the large one upside down first and we began shoveling sand and water into it. Every few shovelfuls we'd stop and take turns climbing into the pot and stamping it down firm. This was repeated until the lower form was filled and the smaller planter form was placed on top of that and the process continued. The final portion at the top was made with a five-gallon bucket.
By this time a large crowd had gathered around our project, anticipating our removal of the forms. We made quite a dramatic production pulling them off, especially since none of us really knew whether the tower would hang together. Luckily it did. We then spent the last hour as a team, carving out the spiral architecture and archways and features. The top was purposefully left unfinished, and leftover sand was used to leave blocks and construction-site features at the bottom.
When the prizes were announced, we'd won first place in the Architectural Marvels category! But better than that, we'd won the crowd's vote, winning the People's Choice Award as well. A double victory!
There was no contest in 1997, but in 1998 the Orbit Team was back. This time Wayne and I plotted yet another tower, figuring that people love towers, as well as the drama of pulling forms off. After we settled on a stepped pyramid architecture, Wayne ingeniously worked out the design in his solids-modeling software in order to use exactly the entire amount of sand in our box. Sweet! (we hoped)
This time we built seven slanted wooden box frames that would be stacked and filled. Again we repeated the shovel and stomp routine, going higher and higher. We sprayed Lemon Pledge on the forms so they'd release smoothly. At the very top, just prior to pulling off the topmost form, I embedded a can of Sterno for the tower's "eternal" flame. (well, that night at least). I also stuck in an Orbit Interaction flag before we began removing the forms. One by one they came off and each level elicited a collective "Ooooooh!" from the surrounding crowd.
The remaining forty-five minutes were spent feverishly carving out the doorways and features on the Mysterious Tower of Fondue, putting on the finishing touches just as the contest was declared ended.
We all waited with our fingers crossed for the announcement of the winners. And once again we scored! Second Place in the Traditional Sandcastles category (huh?, well, I guess it's traditional in some sense). But once again, best of all, we won the crowd's vote and the People's Choice Award. Two more awards!
After the contest we all celebrated at the Orbit Victory Party, but we came back down to the Plaza after dark to light the "eternal" Sterno flame. It burned a magnificent and beautiful blue as downtown crowds walked around the various entries. I wish I'd taken a picture of the flame, for alas, they were all unceremoniously knocked down and the Plaza cleaned up early the next morning.
I still have something to remind me of our season of triumph. Later
that year for Christmas, Wayne gave me an awesome scale model of the
Mysterious Tower of Fondue that I've enjoyed in my office ever since.
It's probably the coolest thing anyone's ever made for me.
I've discovered one of the world's coolest public restrooms. It's the creation of Japanese architect, Dr. Morihiko Yasuhara. I've long been a fan of the cast concrete architecture of Japan, but this interesting assemblage of planes and forms really caught my eye.
Dr. Yasuhara received his Ph.D. from the Department of Architecture,Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan.
From 1977 to 1999 he was Principal for Yasuhara Architectural Design Office, Osaka, Japan. In April of 1999 he became a Professor of Akita Prefectural University, Honjo, Akita, Japan. He heads the Laboratory of Architectural Planning, Department of Architecture & Environment Systems, Faculty of Systems Science and Technology.
body of architectural works comprises many cast concrete buildings.
Here is a gallery
of his works, including five photos of his stunning Toilet in the
Park taken from different angles.
One of the sayings I remember from having grown up on a farm was, "Knee-high by the Fourth of July." This referred to how high the corn should be by this time of year. They're not that much fun when only knee-high, but once they're over your head they're more intriguing.
I remember cornfields being amazingly cool places to hang out as a kid, because they provided excellent hideouts and places to play secret agent spy and wage dirtclod wars and BB-gun firefights.
These days more and more people around the world are turning cornfields into giant mazes!
Undoubtedly, one of the all-time masters of maze design is Adrian Fisher of Portsmouth, England. A master gardener, he's the designer of the world's first cornfield maze and he's created over 200 exquisite mazes around the world on 5 continents and 17 countries. His company, Adrian Fisher Maze Design is the world's leading creator of mazes, labyrinths (single path), and irrgartens (labyrinths with religious significance). He also creates elaborate mirror mazes.
Here are some of his amazing maize mazes:
(7 photos from that year's 18 mazes)
Other assorted cornfield mazes:
Boston Park Farm Maize Maze