Friday, April 3, 2009

Dark Roasted Weirdsville

Here we go again: another article for the always-great Dark Roasted Blend. This time it's on really skinny buildings. Enjoy!

In Robert A. Heinlein's short story “—And He Built a Crooked House—” rogue architect Quintus Teal builds a cross-shaped house that, because of a classic Los Angeles earthquake collapses not into 3 dimensional rubble but instead into a four-dimensional tesseract.

While we've yet to see any buildings with extra-rooms that cross space and time there are plenty of other houses out there that certainly look like they do.

The designers and builders have had a myriad of reasons for their creations' remarkable lack of the dimension we call width -- not a lot of room, not a lot of money, not a lot of sanity -- but the one thing all these crazy houses have in common (beyond a lack of closet space) is their eye-catching just-plain-weirdness.

Tokyo, particularly, has a long tradition of squeezing as much as possible into as little space as available. A lot only a few dozen feet wide but fifty or so long left to go fallow? Not in Japan.

Just take a look at these exceptionally lovely, and surrealistically, narrow buildings. Some of them, sure, look like they were shoehorned into whatever empty space was available -- but others look less like seizing every opportunity, and inch of land, and more like jewels of design and elegance ... if a bit too thin.

One of my favorites - and what I hear is the world's narrowest -- is Helenita Queiroz Grave Minho's place. If you ever happen to find yourself in Brazil you should definitely walk by and check it out. But be careful, at only six feet wide you just might miss it. What's remarkable about her creation isn't just the bizarre dimensions but how she's worked real magic into making it an actual, functional, and quite elegant home -- truly the sign of a great architect if ever there was one.

Across the globe, in London, there's another slip of a real estate: at about nine feet wide in front it's almost a mansion compared with Helenita Queiroz Grave Minho house in Brazil. But the place at 75 1/2 Bedford Street isn't nine feet everywhere: at it's triangular narrowest it goes down to an impossible two feet -- which is just about enough room for a pair of boots ... well, okay, one boot.

If we're globe-trotting we have to swing by the city of Long Beach in California. Sure, the place at 708 Gladys Avenue might be more than two feet, or two meters, but it's still a remarkably skinny house. In fact it's acknowledged by the Guinness World Record folks as the thinnest house in the United States at a little less than ten feet wide.

Not that Europe has somehow escaped the race to slim-down their real estate. If you travel to the wonderful city of Amsterdam, for instance, you'll see almost a plethora of narrow apartments and houses. The why being like that in Tokyo: without a lot of usage land the canal-hugging Amsterdam residents had to cram as many people into what little space they had ... even if they have to step outside to change their minds.

Across the channel and up into the cold gray loveliness of Great Cumbrae, Scotland is what is considered to be the thinnest house in Great Britain with an face just shy of 47 inches. 'Cozy' and 'intimate' would best describe the place -- and 'claustrophobic' and 'confining' being the worst.

As the world's population grows and land becomes more and more scarce, though, perhaps it's time to look at these wonders of design and architecture, of clever construction and imaginative creation not as 'oh, look at the freaky narrow houses' but instead as blueprints for the future of the world.

After all, either intimately thin or ridiculously enormous, having a place to call your own is a very special thing when many have nothing but the dirt between their toes and the storm clouds up above.

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