Matthew C Hagen
8Jul/140

Drivin’ West – Las Vegas!

The drive to Las Vegas was going to be an exciting leg of the journey. Not only was it going to be a full day through the Great State of Nevada, this was going to be nostalgic drive down the 95. I have passed, stopped, and stayed in many of the cities towns along the way at some point of my life, and it was going to be nice to see them again. Fun fact, the only speeding ticket I've received in my life (knock on wood) was in Tonopah, where I learned the hard lesson of a small town speed trap.

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The trip took place on a beautiful day which nicely complimented the beautiful landscapes. There isn't much to write about trvelling between Reno and Las Vegas because the route lacks many stops or towns. Below are some pictures, captions, and a few digressions of the trip. I placed markers on the route map above correlating to the pictures. One can also zoom in on a Google map here.

A little outside Yerington.

1 A little outside Yerington.

Hawthorn's El Capitan Casino.

2 Hawthorn's El Capitan Casino.

I had a steak dinner here once while attending a Democratic Central Committee Meeting. An interesting feature of the town is the Hawthorn Army Depot, which serves as an ammunition storage for the military. The depot has been a major storage facility for military ammunition since 1930 and was originally called the Naval Ammunition Depot. The original name is a little odd given the lack of any major bodies of water, well except the great Walker Lake. Watch out terrorist! What is interesting about the location is the endless landscape of bunkers spread out over the desert. One can see the pattern, even from Google earth.

Ammunition Storage from Google Earth

Ammunition Storage from Google Earth

NV3

3

NV4

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5 Miller's Rest Stop

5 Miller's Rest Stop

Miller's rest stop was interesting. One, I didn't know Nevada had rest stops and after checking out the history sign posted I discovered Miller's (yes, the apostrophe is in the right spot) was a town that started as a water stop for the steam engine trains. After the initial settlement, the city did well mining cyanide for a bit. At some point the trains went a different route and the town became a ghost town. This area certainly served as a great spot to grab some great Nevada landscape shots including the this panorama. Pretty good.

6 Tonopah.

6 Tonopah.

Tonopah. The city half way between Reno and Las Vegas and the seat of Nye County.

7 Tonopah.

7 Tonopah Station.

8

8

9 Goldfield.

9 Goldfield.

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I finally arrived to Las Vegas. I stayed on the 95 until I reached the downtown exit for my hotel, the El Cortez. I was exited to stay downtown with the revitalization taking place. I wanted to see first hand how the area is improving. I have to give the recent development a mixed review and I think it's largely because Las Vegas hasn't changed the way it develops, even if the model is a known failed model (see my own post regarding this same idea in downtown Henderson). For the positive all the development has clearly led to a better street life for Fremont Street and I think this will be the case for the long run (yay!). The bars are half way decent and it's actually pleasant to walk up and down Fremont east of Las Vegas Boulevard (something I would not feel comfortable doing 10+ years ago).

On the negative side I have three complaints about the new stuff. One is Slotzilla. Besides being one of the worst named attractions in the world, the zip line thing blocks the end of Fremont Street and encloses the street in a similar way to Neonopolis, which was a clear failure for not addressing the streets much. Similarly, container park is just another copy of Neonopolis. I said it. I know we all wanted the container park to be great, but it's almost exactly the same as Neonopolis with a fiery Mantis welcoming guests. Why can't Las Vegas build real urban spaces with storefronts that face the street? Container park has the unfortunate situation of being on a critical puzzle piece for the future development of Fremont Street. The third critique is the general bar culture. When I left Las Vegas for Ohio State two bars popped up, The Griffin and Beauty Bar which finally began to feel like a place for the locals and didn't care so much about the scene. Since my departure it seems like the new bars don't quite have the normal bar feel, with club music, admission, and lines. Oh and as a side note, a bar built around video games should never turn into a club. Never.

Slotzilla blocking Fremont Street.

Slotzilla blocking Fremont Street.

Container Park

Container Park

The stay included a brief tour of visits to family and friends. I missed a few with the limited schedule. It was nice catching up with my god mother, Kathy, who started and runs a great program to help troubled youth. She's created bootcamp for high school kids where the model is nurturing instead of punishing and abandonment. I made some world famous tacos for Penny, Gayda, and Bob (I used to mow Penny's lawn when I was a teenager). I was offered and executive tour of Rose. Rabbit. Lie from Michelle, who works as a light master (I'm unsure of her real title) for the show. She pretty much pushes buttons on a board like Data on the Starship Enterprise that is connected to 300 lights. Pretty cool stuff.. sure beats legal forms for the building department.

I also spent quite a bit of time with good ol' friend from the old Dekker / Perich / Sabatini days, Brent and Suzanne. We all share passion for divey bars, stiff drink, and cheap Mexican food. I spent the night of Tommy and Lindsey's wedding at their house, which was planned (something unusual for stays at the the Ledera house). We were going to drive up to the wedding reception and cab it back to the house, which panned out to be a mistake. Although we were at a fancy Casino, no cabs were there waiting to take us home, which apparently is a normal practice. The valet dispatched a cab for us that never came and we ended up getting a ride from the valet driver after his shift ended, which was likely better than a cab ride (unless it was cash cab...)

Suzanne

Suzanne and Penicillin.

Brent

Brent

Another cool moment was catching up with Hartley, I worked with at Dekker / Perich / Sabatini. Hartley was the established Architect who had the wisdom young architects seek.

The overall time I spent in Las Vegas was shorter than usual and limited with the festivities going on. I didn't even manage to get one photo, oddly. I had a great time and will likely return soon enough (it's great living closer to the homeland). Now that the formal wedding part of the trip was wrapped up, I set out on the road for more adventure. California, here I come.

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23Jun/140

Drivin’ West – Reno? No, Let’s Keep Driving.

So the first, and most important, item on the agenda was a safe and timely arrival in Las Vegas.

A drive to Reno was about 11.5 hours from Seattle. I was going to make the first leg of the trip a serious no-frills driving day, but shortly after the plans got into the works, I was offered a generous opportunity to stay at the temporary Adanalian mansion on Lake Tahoe. The Adanalians are the family of my coworker, Ryan, and also happen to be clients at the office. We're designing their permanent mansion. Part of the agenda, if I made it to the Adanalians, would include the chance to throw some dice with Pete Adanalian at the Lakeside Inn. This tempting offer added and hour to the total drive, and one doesn't want to arrive too late in case the craps tables are closed, so I decided to hit the road after work, instead of starting the morning after.

Seattle-Glenbrook Map

 

Before I continue, I have to say I drove a 2013 Chevy Cruz rent-a-car instead of my own vehicle. Anyone who has gotten to know me in the past 10 years, should know Bertha, a 1999 Oldsmobile, Silhouette minivan that has been moving me around since 2004. Unfortunately, the last road trip proved it may be best for her to remain in the greater Seattle area, you know, where cell phone reception is close by. She has many fans that will be sorry to read that. She can't party like it's 1999 anymore...

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Now that the car item has been explained, lets get moving. The initial drive down I-5 was relatively uneventful. I made steady progress and could have made more but decided at 10:45pm that I may need to put together a plan for the night. I decided to pull off into the Oaks Grove Rest Stop, get on Priceline, and arrange a place to stay about an hour ahead (a tactic developed during my longer cross country travels). The search indicated my route left dense civilization (with hotels) after Eugene, Oregon, so I settled for the Broadway Inn about 30 minutes out.

The next day, I work up early and hit the road. This leg of the trip would take me off the interstate for most of the day. The drive was therapeutic with a mix of rural farmland and forests scattered about and virtually no traffic. I made it a point to ensure my gas tank was near full most of the day per the advice of my coworker, Anne, although the mandatory full service stations feel weird. After driving through the mountains of Oregon, the terrain flattens a bit. Before the California state line lies the small town of Merrill, Oregon which has an enticing CMU drive-thu buiding called the Polar Bear. Signage indicated they have burgers, fries, and, milkshakes and it was about lunch time. The establishment had the potential to serve some mean food, but the end result was average for the the bacon burger and fries. I did find it odd that the fries weren't a little limpy. I wonder if the potato farmers nearby prefer a more raw potatoey texture.

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View from Gas Station in Adin, California

View from Gas Station in Adin, California

I was due to get into Lake Tahoe, technically Glenbrook, at 5:30pm but I wanted to make a small detour to check out the Peppermill. I appreciate how the casino treats the interior with a lot of mirrors and neon. The interior remains good, but portions are slowly being converted into a cheap Caesars Palace theme. In the Caesar Palace wing, the gold was rubbing off the bathroom fixtures and the soap dispensers were silver, but this is Reno! At least they thought of soap dispensers even if they don't match (I have to knock Reno just a little bit). Fortunately, the Peppermill still features video screens throughout the casino floor with worldly landscapes, something all the Peppermill owned locations have, and the world famous Fireside Lounge.

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At the end of the day, I made it to Glenbrook safely, met up with Pete, visited the site of their new mansion, got a little history of the area, ate a steak dinner, and threw some dice. I did pretty well but, unfortunately, Pete wasn't fairing as well. He's more adventurous which paid well in the beginning, but later took advantage of his winnings. We later tried to gamble for a "good story," but unfortunately the story didn't pan out.

Special thanks to Pete and all the Adanalians for being so hospitable.

Pete, dressed appropriately for his boat on Lake Tahoe.

Pete, dressed appropriately for his boat on Lake Tahoe that was arriving a day after my visit.

Lake Tahoe at Sunset

Lake Tahoe at Sunset

 

Stay tuned for the next post featuring the drive to the great city of Las Vegas.

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16Jun/142

Drivin’ West – A Road Trip to Los Angeles via Las Vegas

(sound of intense blowing... long pause... footsteps fade away... footsteps approaching... canned air sound...)

The blog has lacked some attention lately, mostly due to taking some of the Architecture Registration Exams and the intensity of the profession these days. Both don't look to be resolving in the near future (guess I'll keep the canned air handy).

In case you missed the photos posted on Instagram (some on the right sidebar) and Facebook a few weeks ago, I recently went on a two week 3,400 mile road trip that included keys stops in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I will be taking the next few weeks to highlight segments of the trip under the category and title of Drivin' West.

Route Map

 

Since I moved to Seattle, I had been meaning to take a trip down the west coast to refresh myself on the cities and built environment. When I received a save-the-date for a wedding in Las Vegas from good undergraduate friends, Tommy and Lindsey, I quickly realized this was my chance. I think some thought I was nuts for wanting to drive the whole way, but this is my preferred way of travel. Only driving car does one have the chance to see landscapes and towns that would otherwise be skipped over. Also, driving a car 65mph on the open road with the windows down and music blasting is way better than being crammed onto an airplane with no food.

Preparation of the trip included a prefect mix of logistical planning and improvisation. For important stops, I organized days and reserved places to stay. For less significant stops or legs of the journey I made on-the-fly decisions. The tools used for achieving this was a simple spreadsheet with important sites, places to stay, and people to see integrated with a map. I could easily prioritize and adjust my schedule depending on real-time conditions or preferences.

Trip Spreadsheet and Map

 

To summarize, this trip was one of the the best I've had in awhile. I was very satisfied with the mix of entertainment, socializing, and alone time. While I expected to see some great sites and architecture, I didn't realize how much fun it would be to meet old friends and family along the way. There are a lot of great people in my life and even if they are a billion miles away, they still know how to have a great a time and are kind enough to spend some time with me (sometimes with a moments notice).

Stay tuned for the first leg of the trip, Seattle to The Great State of Nevada.

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15Mar/141

ARE’s Programming, Planning, and Practice

ppppassYou may say, "boy, I haven't seen many updates on Matt's blog lately." If not, humor me. I have lacked in the writing department in an effort to cram information into my head and later dispelling it to pass the Architecture Registration Exams. Studying for the test reminds me of the college days where I would sit in the library reading every possible thing a day before a test, only for this test it's every night for weeks and the material is comparable to the old encyclopedia book sets we had back in the day. I recently passed the exam entitled Programming, Planning, and Practice (PPP) and thought I would share with fellow ARE takers some items I found helpful for the test.

Jenny's Notes - Jenny's Notes summarize every possible item for the test with useful and relevant information. We also learn some fun facts about Portland.

Schiff Hardin Lectures - I found the lectures on the A201 and B101 to be very helpful in understanding the basic legal framework of the AIA contracts. The concepts of the A201 and B101 can be applied to many of the other contracts. No Sandbagging!

Ben Rudgers' Vignette Guide - Widely recommended on the forums, this guide established good vignette techniques that I adapted slightly to ace the PPP. The guide also includes hilarious asides.

I read both Kaplan and Ballast for this test. I took the advice of youngarchitect.org to read the following chapters in Ballast, that turned out to be helpful:
5 Site Analysis
15 Soil and Foundations
29 Energy Efficiency
30 Sustainable Design
35 Site work.

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24Feb/140

(Local) Songs for the Day – Wimps “KEXP Live Porformance”

A music-buff friend of mine visited Seattle this past week and we attended a lot of live concerts. I quickly realized I have no idea of how much good stuff is within a quick local bus ride. My favorite from this past week was Wimps, who feature an upbeat tempo with some great / funny vocals. This is definitely worth a listen while you avoid talking to your coworkers this morning. Enjoy.

27Jan/140

A Brief Tour of Seattle’s Facades, a Lack of Commitment

About two months ago, maybe three at this point, I was debating the architectural excellence of a building my coworker picked out while we drove to a job site in Ballard. Per the usual, I argued that I didn't find anything particularly good about the building while my coworker (who loves everything) praised the buildings supposed architectural excellence. As I mustered up the reasons the building wasn't good, I finally realized the leading cause of mediocrity plaguing much of Seattle's bad architecture- an unnecessary use of many material and color variations. Since this realization, I have been slowly documenting mediocre buildings that demonstrate a non-committed facade. Through the documentation, it's apparent there are a variety of strategies, which I've started to decipher below.

Before heading into the tour, here are some basics to look out for. The material choices come in composite woods (hardie), metal, vinyl, and the oh-so-hot real wood. The configurations of the materials come in vertical, horizontal, squares, and shingle. The colors lean towards multiple dominant colors, with a slightly dull or dated tint.

Disclaimer- some of these can be difficult to look at. Please open another tab in your browser of good architecture in case you find yourself feeling weak.

An Initial Assessment of Seattle's Non-committed Facades:

Horizontally - Perhaps this building is a new theoretical argument for top, middle, and base. The "rusticated" green base, a wide vertical middle, and a thin horizontal top. In case the materials were not making the argument clear, 3 dominant paint colors are used to emphasize the facade strategy.
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Vertically - We can see a similar strategy as mentioned above, except vertically. The material and color treatment suggests at one point the three different colored parts were separate massing elements. As the photo now demonstrates, the massing has been flattened, leaving the remnants of three different colors and two different material treatments (at least the colors aren't too terrible).
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1/3, 2/3 - Outside the horrendous gluing of mass for what looks to be a wall vented fireplace, this building uses the 1/3 - 2/3 color strategy with white trim separating the vertical and shingle materials. Note how the adjacent property is the same configuration but the design uses a different color palette (so clever! I never suspected they were the same floor plans...).
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Color 4 - The massing of this building indicates a love for saw blades as indicated with the roof line. Each additional massing strategy glued onto this building is further emphasized with a different color/material. The designer wanted to celebrate the saw blade idea by painting this a separate color (green) with a thin piece of trim (We wouldn't want to confuse it with the blue plane).
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Color 5 - As massing grows, designers feel compelled to select more colors. The building on the left contains a more conservative massing strategy (not so much gluing to maximize profits) so the largely flat facade pops with 5 colors and 4 or 5 materials. Who needs a better massing strategy with a non-committed facade? (note the green and wood building on the right is still part of the same complex- color 7?).
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Color 6ish - At some point it's hard to keep track of the colors, but this developer special building has a true uncommitted style to it's color palette.
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Colors + Wood - What seems like a crappy developer copy of Silodam, the hot trend is to incorporate wood into the facade for a real pop. This building uses two colors of wood and inserts more wood randomly between windows on the left side. The randomness is topped off with the irrational play of blue on the wood side. It's like the designers can't figure out whats going wrong, so they impulsively add more materials and make the organization less rational.
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Historically - While the lack of commitment is a more current occurrence, this house couldn't miss the opportunity to partake through the only power an older committed house can- paint. A separation of beige and brown is articulated horizontally on a board that meets the lower eave. No trim separation needed!
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I could keep going, but I'll save you the torture. There are more in my ever growing album of Seattle's Non-committed Facades. The strategies are evolving and it would be interesting to follow up with this post in the future. The newest trend appears to be the random wood panel or color panel inserted into a monolithic portion as demonstrated with the color + wood project.

The non-committed facade is a poor design strategy that has dated these buildings, in addition to our city. I could see a good designer falling victim to this trend, but it's important to stray from complexity and use committed facade strategies. I would also like to encourage better massing, but this is a more difficult task with money being development's only concern.

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On a closing note, either Gehry has fallen victim for Seattle's non-commitment or he studied up on his Seattle vernacular. I'll let you decide.

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21Jan/140

Song for the Day – Man Man “Loot My Body”

Man Man released a new music video for a good song entitled "Loot My Body" that is worthy of a Song for the Day.

For all the people in the Cincinnati area- they are having a show tonight that is worth checking out.

15Jan/140

Song for the Day – Beck “Where It’s At”

Happy Wednesday- only two more days to go. I think this calls for some Beck grooviness.

If you liked that check out a unofficial music video for a great old song I just became familiar with, "Go It Alone."

13Jan/140

Virgin America and its Safety Video

Everyone raves about Virgin America, which I had flown once in the past and had the bad luck of boarding the plane that was having technology issues. The entire computer system for the seats were down, so it was pretty much any other airline.  Last month, I wanted to stop by San Francisco on my way to Seattle from Las Vegas, and Virgin America was the best option. This time the computers were working and the experience was great.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

What makes this airline superior is their desire to make flying a more pleasant experience. A better way of flying is demonstrated in every detail from the interior finishes to the interactive computer system for each seat.  Some airlines feature the touch screen computers with entertainment, but Virgin America took this to the next level allowing one to order food/drinks (alcohol is called "the good stuff" on the menu), play games (multiplayer support with other people on the plane), play music, watch music videos, live tv, and other on demand content.

The most memorable part of the experience is the safety video. While other airlines make this a boring video about buckling a safety belt, Virgin America features an interesting music video with dancing and singing on a set modeled on an airplane interior. Take a look for yourself.

Virgin America Safety Video

What a breath of fresh air. I actually wanted to see the video on my second flight from San Francisco to Seattle. This is the opposite feeling I had boarding my sixth United flight this year (I have a similar distaste for United's newish logo). United's captive customers have to watch a safety video with the bare minimum of creativity, in addition to a corporate greenwashing video BEFORE. Be warned, this is a painful experience.

United Airlines Greenwashing Video (1/2)

United Airlines Safety Video (2/2)

It's funny how some simple and creative ideas improving experience can carry the reputation of an airline over destinations and price . I would really like to see this airline grow as it's clearly a different company in the mediocre/bad world of American domestic airlines.

6Jan/140

Henderson’s Downtown Development – Desertion

Henderson is where I grew up. I think it's fair to say, compared to the current city boundaries, I knew the town in it's infancy. I spent a lot of time, as a kid, in the original neighborhood (housing for the original Magnesium factory workers). It wasn't the highfalutin areas of Green Valley, Anthem, and whatever the next developer wants to call their fortified complex of stucco homes.

Growing up in the southwest in the 1990s-2000s exposed me to tremendous growth including Henderson becoming the second largest city in the state (Sorry Reno... well not really). It's safe to say the development leading to the size was not good. The entire valley fell, and still falls, victim to the fast and loose development that leads to sprawl. In Henderson, it's clear the city wants to improve some of the deserted areas largely focusing on downtown, but unfortunately it's not based on any urban design logic or even a skimming of The Death and Life of Great American Cities Wikipedia article. The latest version suggest is the same old idea ten fold.

The strategy calls for the leveling all the current fabric (buildings) and persuading developers to make a new great place (because new has to be better, right?). A stroll down Water street makes one wonder if the city was bombed out. Most of the buildings I knew as a kid are non existent  and largely empty lots with and chain link fences.

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Anyone who has escaped the development standard of sprawl can tell you a great downtown street will have a lot of commercial buildings. Slightly more research suggests buildings have to be continuous along the street front, a gap for a parking lot or bad proportioned building can throw everything off for pedestrians. Unfortunately the city is implementing the opposite and, well, the results show little progress on the hopes for a nice downtown.

Downtown Henderson could be a great place and I hope one day it can turn around, but using the same formula won't work.

The specifics on the city's plan can be found here.

A photo album featuring empty lots of downtown can be found here.

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