Part I: Dismay
Indiana, I just didn't appreciate you enough. Never then while living in a multitude of apartments historic and modern did I ever once consider that my apartment could be better designed. Not because I was too naive or wasn't looking—I did notice that the courtyard steps at my dorm were oddly spaced so that you had to take two very long strides or three very tiny ones—but because Indianians, it seems, actually cared about the relationship between the apartment and the people who functioned inside of it. And when something works well, you don't notice it because it works well effortlessly.
Not so with Brooklyn. My past few domiciles have been one lesson after another in bad design—my current apartment being a prime example, why not start here. The thing is, it looks pretty nice from a glance. Shiny wood floors, wood-frame windows, a deep cognac finish on the sleek kitchen cabinets. As it is anywhere I suppose, it's only after moving in that you notice the flaws. The floorboards (newly laid probably less than five years ago when the building was new) don't quite meet up and gape everywhere. And they shine because they're caked with varnish. The beautiful window frames require Herculean strength to close and latch. The wideness of the kitchen cupboard doors means you have to step back every time you open one. Also, there are no drawers. And the sink is the bane of my domestic aspirations. Set in a corner, with a very short faucet, I have to crook my body uncomfortably every time I want to rinse off a vegetable or wash a dish. Even though the sink sees the most action of anything else in the kitchen, the designers tucked it in the farthest reaches of a recessed corner.
Nothing about the apartment is plumb and level. Not the floors, cabinets, towel racks, bathroom sink, not the windows.
There was the apartment four years ago. My bedroom encompassed an enormous 14 by 17 space, yet the builders only whittled a tiny 2 x square for a closet. A closet so shallow that I had to hang my clothes at a 30 degree angle if I wanted to shut the closet door. Like the mythical library someone designed but forgot to account for the weight of the books, so the library sank half an inch into the ground every few years. Oh right, that was my university library...
So you see, it doesn't take much to get a building approved. I've found my new career path. Envision if you will, a kitchen sink that doesn't hurt to use, windows and closet doors that shut willingly, floors that last a lifetime, a clean and simple functional space. That's what I want to make.
Part II: Bus to Greensburg, Kansas
Here it is mid-spring in the new apartment and having kept track of the shifting in the sun's path by the light it casts on an adjacent wall, I am already anticipating the unbearable heat of summer as the rays become more and more direct.
Not to say I don't prefer my view Manhattan skyline over the neighboring pizza joint, but it's making me realize that better design would really come in handy to lower my cooling bills and keep it sunny in winter. If my windows faced more south than west, the apartment would receive direct sunlight in winter when it needed it most, and be shaded in summer, when it's the hottest.
I'm witnessing the mass exploitation of "sustainable architecture," but how many designers actually take into account the relationship of the building with its surroundings? (Okay, here's one.) Back in ancient Greece—I think it's Greece (this is me summoning up ten-years-ago college course material)—builders would angle buildings to take full advantage of the sun's warmth in the winter and the cooling breezes in the summer. The design aspect that most interests me, however, are the clay vessels used as a natural air conditioner. These giant porous pots were filled with water and set in front of entering winds. The water in the pot would cool the air flowing in thereby lowering the overall indoor temperature.
I've long wondered if something like this could be implemented for modern buildings. A giant clay pot. Gallons full of water. Sitting precariously in your window. I can already hear the lawyers gearing up as inept contractors try to install those guys...
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