The Art of Capture

Welcome to the home of people trying to make browsing the Web from my mobile phone easier.

It is the Strata Center at MIT in Cambridge, Ma designed by Frank Gehry and opened in 2004. I passed by it yesterday on my way back from seeing a movie.

I’d seen this building before and had been disappointed in it although being flat out dazzled by this architect’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilboa, Spain and Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA. I’ve only seen these other structures through photographs.

The movie, “Man on Wire” was about the Frenchman, Philippe Petit, who walked (the arresting NYC officer said “danced”) on a cable between the twin World Trade Towers in 1974. Here is my review: where ever you are in the world as you read this blog, buy a plane ticket to the closest city in the world where it is playing and go see it. End of Review. I’m not kidding.

Soooooo…..I’m walking along after the movie toward the subway and see this building in the distance. It calls to me. I say “Hello” and go up to it and walk up and down the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street. I still don’t like it but I just smile trying to be polite. I’m thinking, now, let me look at this from every possible angle. I have my good camera and wide angle lens and it is deserted. In fact, practically all of Boston and Cambridge appear to be deserted on this late August Saturday.

I take my photographs and notice just by the act of trying to capture it that my feelings are beginning to change about this building. I settle in for the short subway ride back to South Station and my train home and I’m aware that this odd building may have captured me. I think I may even like it.

I got home. I look at the day’s photographs: Boston waterfront, clandestine photographs of Anish Kapoor’s scultpures at the Institute of Contemporary Art, seagulls and two small sisters chasing one another outside the Children’s Museum and many, many others that perhaps I’ll use on future days, on different topics, but for now, I kept coming back to the photos of this building.

I decided to look it up and find out more about it.

MIT is now suing Frank Gehry because there are leaks in the roof, problems with ice on the roof in winter, and they have had to spend over a million dollars to renovate the amphitheatre due to poor drainage. It cost 300 million to build and Gehry’s firm was paid 15 million. It was designed to facilitate communication between faculty and students as it is the home of various computer science and engineering facilities at MIT.

It is the home of one part of the World Wide Web Consortium {W3C}: the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (MIT CSAIL). This consortium, which also includes partners in France and Japan, labors to make a friendly mobile web experience and they have a July 29, 2008 press release on new research for people who want to use the Web while “on the go”.

Ah, that would be moi.

I surf the web on my phone just for the hell of it after reading this press release. Yup, it’s certainly easier than it used it be.

And, now I look at this building from the inside out, instead of just at the external. I begin to imagine minds grappling with the architecture of the web within this piece of architecture and all of a sudden I think I wuv this building and it’s stacked Seuss like boxes appearing to fall into the street and cylinders that look like coffee carafes sans steam curling out.

Attention! Attention! Deep thought arriving on track 3. In fact, it might even be a movie review of “Man on Wire” as well: when you, yourself, your sorry odd lonesome and your “moiness” make an effort to capture something foreign, frightening and mysterious, that something reveals itself in the process and changes you in the art of capturing it. In other words, here’s the mathematical theorem since this is MIT and all.

Art of Capture= Friggin’ Miracle.

I now think MIT’s Strata Center’s exterior icy surfaces should be used in the Winter Olympics as a ski run, a fine icy shalom. Have Gehry build it and Philippe Petit’s son or daughter can ski it.

Philippe? You do have children, don’t you?

Oh, you really really need to have children. You are only 59 years old. Consider it the ultimate balancing act and step out, on to the cable, leave safety behind and give the world another poet of the air.

©Pat Coakley 2008

PHOTOGRAPHS CANNOT BE USED WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION

16 comments on “The Art of Capture”

  1. Looks like something from a Tim Burton film . . .

  2. Brilliant building and photo.

  3. … hmm looks like a serious wanna be Terminator but a nice one all the same. There are buildings like this in the Netherlands I believe, however, I could be mistaken due to the fact that my brain has left the building for the one above.

  4. The building looks like a giant child has squashed it.

    Whenever I see people risking their lives doing things like tightrope walking, a few thoughts occur to me.

    1) If you’ve you got a life worthwhile living, why put it at risk unnecessarily?
    2) Do we, the audience need to see other people risk their lives for our amusement?
    3) Why do some people have such a need to be the centre of attention, to the extent that they will put their lives in jeopardy?

    Years ago as I was walking into I shared house, my housemate called to me to quickly come and have a look at what was showing on the TV news right then. I raced into the room to see Karl Wallenda fall from his tight-rope in Puerto Rico. The wind blew him off balance and he tried to catch the rope as he fell but he bounced off it to his death. I was nearly sick. That was something I didn’t need to see. I certainly wouldn’t call it entertainment.

  5. Tysdaddy, It looks too playful to be Tim Burton. Not “dark” enough in its madness.

    S. Lee: This is a building that took me time to like. You immediately are drawn to it and I suspect that is why architecture is so worth studying.

    Sanity: what’s this I hear about you falling in love? That could make an architect’s hand a little shaky.

    Razz–I never would have gone to this movie in the first place had I not known the outcome. I agree watching someone self destruct either on a tightrope high above a city or right here on earth through risky, life threatening behavior is not for me. Having said that, I must tell you that the story of this man and how he did this (and all the other things in his life) and the “why” for him is as hardwired into his DNA as laughter or breathing is to ours was as compelling a story as I’ve ever seen or heard. He did a similar walk on the Sydney bridge before he did the Towers so he is in Australia’s record books too. All I know is the movie was total surprising, often hilarious because of the story of the lead up, his helpers and what they had to do to get into the building, case it, and get all this equipment up there in order to rig it, and, ultimately, the sheer mystery of such a human being. He was performing up there for 45 minutes! He took a bow. he lay down on the wire, looked up at the sky and birds around him. He was smiling as the cops were telling him to get off the wire. He may be crazy in every certifiable way. But, this story gets to you in ways I hardly knew possible. I don’t suspect from your comments that you’ll go to see it. But, I’m tellin’ ya, you are missing something. Truly.

  6. now that is one funky building i must say. it does make you wonder what sort of mind created it. i just love reading your thought processes. and so i will go now to read more of you!

  7. What you have the ability to do is take in, absorb, process it all and turn it out in packages of thought that make us all be better
    “see-ers ” of things.

    Frank Gehry/Phillippe Petit have visions and lives that clearly belong to a miniscule percentage of the worlds’ population.
    But they make our lives seem so festooned with the adventures and risks we’re unwilling or unable to take ourselves.
    It draws me in because I’ve become so cautious about risk.

    I took some great shots of the new Gehry building on the West Side Highway in NY last summer. It’s like a giant series of sails made of glass that appears both opaque and translucent.

    Thanks for this post- I’m going to sit on the sofa and risk falling asleep……

  8. oh i have to see man on wire-i looked at the trailer-thankyou
    have you ever seen “the prizewinner of defiance ohio” a beautiful corny movie i like but this one looks riveting and challenging i cant wait

  9. and also thats a great photo just amazing

  10. Tipota: no, I’ve never seen that movie. I’ll order it from netflix in coming weeks. You shall love love Man on Wire, I think. Thanks!

    BL: you know, once again, nail on head. The cautious about risk is, I think, what makes Petit and Gehry fascinating. The building you are talking about is the Barry Diller building, right? The IAC? Here’s a link to Vanity Fair’s article and slideshow:
    http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2007/06/gehry_slideshow200706
    It appears to me that I’d have no delay in loving this building at all!
    Meander: Yes, indeed, a “funky” building says it nicely!

  11. Such a strange building. Such whimsy, such destruction of the “norm”. I also hope to never work in a building that inspires vertigo through such bizarre lines.

  12. Just as you wrote this back to me, I sent you an email with the photo of that very building!
    St.Croix-nicity!!!!
    Of course you knew about that building too…
    I’m searching the data base of Google to find something you might not know.
    So far, I’m not doing so well….

  13. Mt. Brooks, you bring up a good point. I wonder what the inside of this building is like. But “whimsy” for sure and the destruction of the “Norm” seems to be the scientific quest of the inhabitants so it actually may “fit” their needs in a remarkable way.

    Yes! St.Croix-nicity for sure! I’ve been an architecture groupie for years. Don’t exactly know why. Have absolute no sense of it at all but have always loved to hear architects talk about their craft and work. Shows like Charlie Rose feature them on one on one interviews and inevitably I come away thinking about life a little bit differently. Thanks for the picture!! It really is a spectacular building I think.

  14. I really like it… just not across the street from my house, but there, where it is, I think it’s one very interesting building. I wonder how easy it was to furnish – looks like a lot of odd angles and round shapes. It does not seem as if it had been built for efficiency and practicality! Weird choice for MIT, no?

    I heard Gehry speak two years ago… and he absolutely needs to stick with architecture! A good orator, he was not!

    In regards to Petit, I will hopefully find the movie on Netflix, but I think that some people are just naturally drawn to danger, the rush, the adrenaline. I don’t think it’s about the attention they get. I lived for a few months in a French ski resort and hung out a lot with the guys who were triggering the avalanches in the early morning. These guys are nuts! They never know for sure where the avalanche will start, but they laugh it off as if it were nothing. It’s their way of life.

  15. It kinda makes me feel dizzy looking at it, as if the whole thing is going to start swirling or something

  16. Nathalie, I agree. I think it’s a DNA level impulse. Very, very drawn to danger’s edge. Gehry is not known for practicality or efficiency and MIT knew that going into the project.

    Tony: Yes, that is the effect in the photograph. Looking at it in real life, however, it is very fixed, not swirling. Yet, even the fixed nature of the angles is amusing and engaging. Now, would I want to work inside it? I don’t know. I’ll have to do a little research and see what people are saying who actually work there.


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