Visiting Snohetta's Wolfe Center

First things first. This isn’t a critical review of the project, but a few observations from one day’s visit in the middle of summer.

This past Friday my friend and talented interior designer Molly and I took a day trip to Bowling Green’s campus. Molly, as an alumni of BGSU was able to secure us an all access tour to the Snohetta designed Wolfe Center for the Arts. A recently completed landmark building for BGSU.

If you’re not familiar with the Wolfe Center here is a quick run down. $40 million dollar budget. Monolithic wedge shaped design, with a grassed portion of the roof creating public space. Numerous classroom styles for art, choral, film, digital, graphic design, dance and theater. Faculty and staff offices. Two theaters, one seating about 400 and the other around 60.

Despite this being my first time to Bowling Green, I’m confident saying there are some serious master planning problems here. Getting in to the campus and then actually to the Wolfe Center was a task…

The actual approach to the Wolfe is pretty exciting, as you catch glimpses of it through the trees and suddenly you’ll see this dramatic wedge shooting out of the ground. Ample surface parking is available adjacent to the building. This is of course extremely convenient and equally ugly. The large wall of windows faces directly at the surface lot. I asked our guide if there were plans to develop the lot, he said no, that the parking for the theater was required. Shame.

The interior, and specifically the lobby was pretty awesome. There were a lot of white walls, thats a given. There was also great usage of black. Molly and I both commented on the black walls and the nice women at the desk were insistent that if we liked them, we had to look at the restrooms.

The lobby artwork by Anne Senstad was terrific. A perfect compliment to the architecture, almost as if they were designed for each other. The artwork dramatically provided a large burst of color into the space, and and throughout with smaller pieces by the same artist. Classes were out of session, it would have been nice to space this particular space active.

To deal with acoustical needs of the theaters, the building is actually two separate buildings connected by a skylit corridor. The office space, several class rooms, and workshops are located in the rear building along with much of the mechanical systems. The office windows have a nice gradient glaze at the bottom for privacy, and have nice views into the courtyard and toward the lawn.

The class rooms were varied in size, usually featured an accent wall of color, and were generally nice spaces compared to your normal classroom. The dance room perhaps being the nicest of them all.

The theaters. Both were really sharp. The main theater had a charcoal color scheme, with warm house lights above. Apparently Snohetta wanted everything to be completely black, but BG pushed for the greyscale look. I think it was the right move.

Our guide then took us on a tour of the entire backstage operations. We saw it all, curtains, lights, audio boards, the underbelly of the stage, and I walked on the cat walk. The audio and light booth looked like they could have been out of a scene of James Bond. Just had this cool villain look to them. This whole portion of was an in-depth look into a world I knew nothing about. Really interesting.

The second theater was a black box space. Very simple, nice red chairs that popped. I walked on this wire canopy suspended above the theater which was fun.

I really like the building, I do. The sloped lawn/roof is awesome. I think it backs up into dorms, which I presume when students are around they use the lawn. I might guess that the film department might try and show a film there as well. Really great space.

The entrance is striking and you know exactly where you should be entering. But there were a few things that felt weird about the landscape design and the facade details.

Here are my nitpicks with the project. The sides could have used a few more windows. The interior doesn’t lack light, but from outside it feels a little relentless. The garden space lacked any sort of benches, tables, anything to let people actually stop and use the space. I hope they add some installations to the landscape. Art that complements the exterior as well as Anne Senstad’s work complements the interior. It feels like a few spots might have been marked for art and it’s just not ready yet.

Back to BG and their master plan problems. There is a remarkable difference in feel and atmosphere of “old BG” and where their newer buildings are like the Wolfe Center. The new area feels almost suburban, commuter college like while “old BG” has that classic collegiate feel. The spacing and relations between buildings is off. The Wolfe Center is a terrific building, in a not so great site.

That brings me to the gem of the trip. A good little building with a simple purpose that integrates terrifically to it’s site. The Bostwick designed chiller plant. See more of it in the complete set. Absolutely loved it.

Photography from Commercial Flights

I’ve been known to take a cool photo or two from commercial flight. Here are a couple of pointers for your next flight.

I always try to fly Southwest. Numerous items on this list are made possible by Southwest’s open seating policy and friendly staff. Thanks Southwest.

Choosing your seat
Step one, you’re gonna need a window. Perfectly clean windows are hard to come by so just find one that isn’t too bad and make the best of it.

Avoid the wing
Sit either in front of the wing or behind it. Choosing in front will give you a much larger angle of view and potential shots. Choosing behind the wing, you’ll lock yourself into the last few rows of the aircraft.

To the back we go!
I recommend sitting in the back. Yes, you lose some of your view but did you sit in the back of the school bus? How about the back of your college lectures? It’s like that. Bit more relaxed, a little bit friendlier and that comes in handy when you bend the rules.

Flight Path
Frequent travelers know their flight paths. We take off, loop around this way and there is a great view of “X” on the left. 

I frequently fly from Columbus (CMH) to New York (LGA) connecting through Baltimore (BWI); sit on the left. You’ll often loop around the westside of Columbus getting a nice view of the downtown. The view into Baltimore is crap from the left, if you’re interested you might switch the right side for the landing. (Hooray Southwest open seating, sitting in the back, and being nice to flight attendants!) From BWI to LGA, you should also sit on the left side. You’ll get a nice view over Brooklyn looking at lower Manhattan and Midtown. I used to fly into Newark, but I liked the view into and out of LGA better.

Flight attendants
Be nice, say hello, smile, etc. Use some of that charm you’re always telling everyone you have.

If you’re going somewhere for the first time you can politely ask the flight attendant to ask the pilot if either side will have a nice view.

Be ready!
Camera bag open and at your feet. Once the crew takes their seats for take off you can grab your camera and be ready to shoot.

Take Offs & Landings
These are your best opportunities for great images. Make them count. You are technically breaking the rules by using a camera at this point but…you were nice to the flight attendants weren’t you? Oh, and you’re in the back where there are less people? You’re smart.

The Turn
Being ready for turns is huge, you can often get a straight down look on the world. It’s cool and gives you an interesting perspective on the world.

Schedule Interesting Light
It’s really easy for the light to be flat and uninteresting when you’re that high up. I always try to schedule a sunrise or sunset in to my flight. It doesn’t always work out but why not try?

Getting a clean window is important. It’s also important to know that airplane windows are curved and blur drastically toward the edges. There can also be significant light fall off around the window frame.

Use these to your advantage or avoid them with a longer lens. Either way, now you know.

Cameras & Lenses
For the most part I’ve been using a Nikon D700 but I’ve always had nice results with a Panasonic GF1 and an iPhone. Each one has it’s pros/cons.

Bump your ISO. You’re going to want to gather more light so that you can keep your depth of field larger and shutter speed fast. I’ve found in this case it’s better to stop your lenses down a bit for sharpness than to open them up for more light.

What lens should you be using? I enjoy the 85mm PC lens on my D700. You’re pretty high up there, 85mm is a good length. If you’ve got a professional zoom thats also a good option.

Wanna Tilt?
Still enjoying the “tilt shift rage”? At these altitudes and a T/S lens, I’d recommend shooting around f8 and a tilt of 6mm. Any more than that and you’ll likely end up with all blur.

Have fun
Stop looking at what’s on the camera’s LCD. It’s gonna look like crap. Just keep shooting, keep working that window. You’ll a handful of good to decent shots worth processing and then you’ll learn from all the junk that you filled your card with.

The Ideas | Trust For The National Mall

The Trust for the National Mall is a holding three separate design competitions for the Mall. If you haven’t been to the Mall, it is in desperate need of maintenance and frankly a redesign. It is broken.

The Trust has posted the twelve potential designs on their site. Four designs per site; Constitution Gardens, Washington Monument Grounds at Sylvan Theater, Union Square. Kudos to them for posting these.

My favorites:

Constitution Gardens: Andropogon + Bohlin Cywinski Jackson or Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architect + Paul Murdoch Architects.

Washington Monument Grounds at Sylvan Theater: Michael Maltzan Architecture + Tom Leader Studio

Union Square: Diller Scofidio Renfro + Hood Design or Gustafson Guthrie Nichol + Davis Brody Bond.