Why the Tower of Pisa Leans


The Leaning Tower of Pisa is a marvel of architecture, beautifully representing the marriage of Gothic and Romanesque styles, but is best known for it’s curious lean. Though precarious in appearance, the Tower is Pisa, with much effort, was made to be structurally sound. This enigmatic Pisian bell tower and it’s peculiar lean have a long-winded story, spanning a gamut of 199 years, and beginning all the way back in 1173.

There’s much speculation surrounding the identity of the Tower of Pisa’s architect, but it’s widely believed to be Diotisalvi, a notable architect of the era, most appreciated for his creation of the bell tower of San Nicola. The largest hole in this conjecture is that if he did design the Pisian tower, he didn’t sign it with his name…which would stand to good reason! Any architect would agree that it was a careless mistake to construct such a lofty tower on a meager three metre foundation set on unstable soil, but such a mistake is credited for the tower’s lean.

The Tower of Pisa began to obviously tilt with the addition of the second level in 1178, only five years after construction began. Off on a bad foot with a long road ahead, the Pisians ceased construction for nearly a century, instead allocating their attention to military engagements with Lucca, Florence, and Genoa. Thankfully, this allowed time for the soil beneath the tower to settle.

Picking back up in 1272, Giovanni di Simone took head of the second phase in the tower’s construction. To compensate for the lean, constructor’s had to build on side of the tower slightly taller than the other to create a level top surface. Due to this, the tower not only leans, but also curves. 12 years later, the Pisians again halted construction to cope with defeat in battle by the Genoans.

The final phase of construction began in 1319 under the direction of Tommaso di Andrea Pisano, who’s credited for overseeing the construction of the seventh floor and bell tower. Construction was finally complete in 1372, the end result, a quirky, but beautiful bell tower, with 7 bells and a head-scratching curve and 3.99 degree tilt.


New Lucas Museum Promises Exciting Architecture

New Lucas Museum Promises Exciting Architecture by Kurt Kucera

According to an article recently completed by the Chicago Sun-Times, George Lucas has plans to create a new interactive lakefront museum; the museum has been proposed for construction on a site residing between Soldier Field and McCormick Place East.

Three firms will be working together to complete the project.  MAD Architects will be responsible for the design and overall concept of the building.  In particular, Ma Yansong, the firm’s founder, will be heading the project.  MAD Architects, although based in Beijing, is known for its work on the Absolute Towers in Canada, which have been nicknamed Marilyn Monroe, based on the design centering on curves in the building’s structure.  The design won the Best Tall Building Americas prize in 2012, as awarded by the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.  VOA Associates will serve as the executive architects on the project and will work to implement the designs and concepts created by MAD Architects.

Studio Gang and its founder Jeanne Gang have been charged with designing the exterior landscaping for the project, as well as a bridge that will connect the museum to Northerly Island.  Gang, based in Chicago, is known for her creation of an eighty-two story wavy building for the city entitled the Aqua Tower on the Near East Side.

Many architects have praised Lucas’ choices in a design team, particularly in terms of both international and local influences.  It is thought that the difference in global and local vision will create a building that is true to Chicago’s taste while still being worldly and intriguing.  However, there are some critics of the maneuver and placement of the museum; lakefront protectionists have promised to take swift and strong action—namely suing—should the construction of the new building find its way east of Lake Shore Drive.


Queenslander House Serves As Original Design In Australia


Vernacular architecture is a concept of designs specific to a locale, which are developed directly as a reflection of local climate, environment and building resources provided by the terrain. In the case of Australia, the very first design in the vernacular was the Queenslander—a design constructed of the abundant supplies of timber and iron with an open architecture that allowed mid-nineteenth century migrants to adapt to the new subtropical climates via harnessing breezes as a means to survive the extreme summers.

According to an article recently completed by Architecture Design, there are several set standards of a Queenslander design. Typically, the house will have four to six rooms that branch off from a central corridor. The homes are most likely placed on top of hills, which allowed for maximum use breezes in the task of cooling ventilation. The house was always surrounded in verandas, which served as an outdoor extension of the indoor living space; this space allowed for particular cooling off in the intense heat of the summers. Doors leading out to the verandas were often left open during the summer, increasing the flow of air to cool off family members and decrease chance of developing mould.

The structure was often built upon a series of small stumps, which allowed for further ventilation, as cooling air was allowed to sweep under the home; this also served to minimize the amount of ground excavation required. Any decorative pursuits often employed the same lightweight materials that covered the bulk of the exterior, namely iron or timber balustrades, gables and columns; the key here was a meeting of function and decoration, as the added designs sought to increase breeze moment, not inhibit it. In recent years, Australia architecture has veered from the vernacular design of the Queensland, in favor of more modern designs that draw in attention. However, growing green concerns in issues such as environmental and energy saving techniques has prompted a return of an inclination towards this innovative vernacular design.

Designs of the Year Challenges Our Imagination

Two decades ago everyone who understood changing cultural trends swore the 21st century would mark the invention and rapid utilization of things like the flying car, elevators that went sideways and personal home robots that obeyed your every command. While suppliers to the imagination continue create some of the most awe-inspiring creations to rival those of the past, designers have been steadily producing innovative solutions that would send those in Hollywood back to the drawing board.

Announced on Monday, the Design Museum in London released their shortlist for Designs of the Year and you won’t be surprised with who and what made the cut. The 76 nominations include everything from a floating school in a Nigerian lagoon, to a behavior changing syringe that changes colors when it has been exposed to air (developed to deter the use of non-sterile syringes). Designers such as Tracey Neuls, BarberOsgerby and Konstantin Grcic have been included on the list for best design, which includes categories such as transport, graphic, digital, architecture, product, furniture, and fashion.

The 76 nominated projects will be shown in an exhibition at the Design Museum from March 26th to August 25th, with the winners from each category and an overall winner being announced later this year. To give you an idea of what the competition looks like, below are a few of the projects and designs being presented. 

Zaha Hadid Architects completes the Heydar Aliyev Centre in Baku, Azerbaijan

Dave Hakkens’ (graduate of Design Academy Eindhoven) concept of a mobile phone with detachable blocks. Hakkens’ design has gone viral with over 16million views and the possibility of creating the phone through “crowdspeaking”



London designer Benjamin Hubert created the worlds lightest table and called it Ripple. The 2.4 metre-long dining table was constructed from corrugated Sitka spruce plywood.

Smith College Constructs New England’s First Living Building


Smith College Constructs New England’s First Living Building by Kurt Kucera

To gain certification from the International Living Future Institute is equivalent to be ordained a gatekeeper of environmental sustainability. Until recently, only four buildings in the world passed ILFI’s Living Building Challenge, which requires project teams to pass seven performance areas, or what ILFI calls ‘Petals.’ The performance areas include site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty. Because of requirements, the Living Building Challenge has pushed some environmental designers to the brink with only a few capable of coming close.

ILFI’s most recent certification was given to the world’s fifth living building– Smith College’s Bechtel Environmental Classroom in Whately, Mass. The 2,500-square-foot single-store wood-framed classroom structure is located about 15min away from campus at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station. The structure used to serve as an observatory but during renovation Smith College decided to create something  “that allows one to leave the urban area of Northampton and interact with the natural world” –in order to– “to spark interest in and increase knowledge about nature through interdisciplinary interactions.”

The structure was built by local contractor Scapes Builders but designed by Coldham & Hartman Architects, a firm known for developing environmentally-intelligent buildings.  The students of Smith College also had a hand in the building’s creation. Drew Guswa, the director of Smith’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design and Sustainability (CEEDS), noted:

 “Helping students integrate knowledge from different disciplines runs through everything we do. The design and construction of this remarkable building has been a great way to engage our students’ cross-disciplinary abilities and put them in a position where they were making production decisions. The building has been, and will continue to be, an invaluable teaching tool.”

Youtube Begins Experimenting With New User Interface Design

With mobile apps such as Snapchat on the way to gaining international relevancy due to its simplicity and user-friendly design, major media companies like Youtube are following the trend to stay relevant. Youtube, the video-sharing website that continues to keep Vimeo at bay, just begin testing a new user interface that’s only available to a select few. While there’s no word when the company will roll out the revisions to the masses, they will surely be welcomed. According to Tech2Notify, the look and feel of the new Youtube design is more simplified with a focus placed on controlling the user experience from app to desktop.

“With more videos coming to YouTube every minute, we’re always experimenting with ways to help people more easily find, watch and share the videos that matter most to them. We’ll consider rolling changes out more broadly based on feedback.” – Youtube

Essentially the new Youtube layout updates the social network to being video focused, without relying heavily on un-needed navigation and subscription functions. To consider the company’s move as a nod towards mobile would be an understatement. With an estimated 4.4billion people expected to use mobile apps by 2017, companies like Youtube are continuing to reinvent they layout in order to stay current.