August 01, 2003

When Architects Attack!!

When architects attack!! Kieran Healy is trapped in overlapping rings of hexagons somewhere in Australia, unable to find his own office (let alone anybody else's):

The Coombs Building's layout is a marvel of logic and clarity, provided you are looking at it from the outside and are in a helicopter . Like a gigantic carbon molecule, it is composed of three, three-storey hexagonal blocks each of which shares a side with one of the others. One (soon to be two) of the hexagons has a stub protruding from it that appears to be the bottom side of a fourth hexagon but of course is not.

Once inside the building, finding your way around is simplicity itself. Rooms are numbered according to an elementary system whereby the first digit denotes the block, the second the level and the third the room itself. You will of course not be tempted to think there are three blocks (on an obviously absurd analogy to the three hexagons) but rather will intuit straight away that there are seven. Blocks are numbered beginning with the main entrance corridor at the bottom of the middle hexagon (which offers the shortest route between the left and right hexagons) and ascend from 1-7 in half-hexagon sized chunks proceeding in a clockwise fashion along the three blocks, sorry I mean units, except for block six which is the stub to the rightmost unit mentioned earlier.

To aid navigation across the floors there are staircases on every third (or sometimes fourth) turn. Bear in mind that when you take a corner you are making a 60-degree rather than a 90-degree turn. Due to the slightly sloping nature of the site, the upper floors in two of the hexagons do not line up vertically with the third, so occasional half-staircases are necessary to facilitate the transistion from one hexagon to the next. Seminar rooms in the building are helpfully labelled A to F. Some of them also have proper names, such as the Nadel Room. The information booth (if you can find it) is staffed by helpful people who will give you directions and even a map of the building. All the same, I may soon invest in a GPS unit of some sort...

Posted by DeLong at August 1, 2003 08:10 PM | TrackBack


This kind of lunacy is what happens when the Bahaus mantra that "form follows function" is disregarded.

Posted by: Pooh on August 2, 2003 02:37 AM

crystal not molecule

Posted by: big al on August 2, 2003 03:39 AM

No, molecule is correct:

"From AIDS medicines to superconductors to flat-screen TVs, a wide range of medical and industrial uses are envisioned for the buckminsterfullerene, an incredibly strong soccer-ball-shaped molecule that is the third form of carbon after diamond and graphite.

Nicknamed the "buckyball" for its resemblance to Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome, the 60-atom carbon molecule won the researchers who discovered it in 1985 a Nobel Prize and sparked a whole new field of chemistry."

Posted by: Pooh on August 2, 2003 04:10 AM

no pentagons mentioned, only hexagons, graphite crystal structure.

Posted by: big al on August 2, 2003 11:01 AM

So itís back to the GPS thing again is it? I want you to think long and hard about this scenario. A few years back, when they first came out with GPS, it was slightly off for national security reasons. But then they did away with that, but I still think that if the government declares a national emergency they can off base or scramble the signals again.

And then consider what a mess that will be, after you have shamelessly promoted this whole idea to non-outdoors type people who have no real use for this except their own male vanity requires it. The next time we have a national emergency, we will have a whole nation of useless men wandering around aimlessly, and it will be all your fault, and this once proud nation will never recover its lost pride.

Posted by: northernLights on August 2, 2003 12:21 PM

Survivalist mode on:

People better not be relying on GPS to get them around in emergencies. Give me a good old map and compass - relying on a system which can be disrupted by a mere EMP is too dicey.

Survivalist mode off

Posted by: rvman on August 2, 2003 04:10 PM

As a freshman and sophomore at Ohio State, I lived in Morrill Tower. It was based on hexagons, somewhat like the building described in the post. You could start an argument by asking, "What direction does that window face?" The shortage of right angles bothered some people. The green walls and orange furniture bothered others.

The problems were so persistent, they reduced occupancy by a fourth after just the first year. Eventually, the second tower, Lincoln, was converted to offices, so people didn't have to live there. But there are still ill-informed freshman living in Morrill.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins on August 2, 2003 06:45 PM

I'm reminded of trying to find a conference room in the UC-Davis Humanities building on a Saturday morning, some years ago. The building includes huge, vaguely threatening metal-clad wedges as well as bewildering concrete courtyards that put me in mind of "The Conformist". Elevators rarely seem to go where one thinks they might. Eventually, we were able to visually locate our conference room, on an internal promontory...but couldn't for the life of us figure out how to GET there. A helpful guide who finally materialized led us on a truly bewildering set of stairs, courtyards, halls, elevators and so forth to deliver us to the promised land.

Now that virtual reality is coming on strong, perhaps we should require, as a condition of issuing a permit for a large institutional building, that the architect spend several hours in a virtual version of his building, given directions to find certain places and timed on the outcome!

Posted by: PQuincy on August 2, 2003 06:56 PM

No, it's definitely shaped as an organic molecule - an aromatic cyclic hydrocarbon in fact. If it was a graphite or diamond molecule I would have recognised it (and it would be a damn sight easier to navigate).

I always suspected that some 1960s hippie architect (that's the era it was built in) made it in the shape of a well known hallucinogen, but someone with more organic chemistry than me has identified the molecule in Kieran's comments section. It sounds like nasty stuff.

Posted by: derrida derider on August 4, 2003 07:14 AM
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