A recent interest of mine is that of urban gawking. More romantically, I like to call myself an architectural flaneur with a love for iPhoneography. This interest was manifested when New York City started to speak to me, in unexpected spaces and moments. My eye for objects turned into an eye for seeing objects anthropomorphize and, effectually, be part of humanlike scenes. For instance, the drain pipes between Avenue A and Avenue B on 7th Street all seem to be spooning or lovingly cuddling in the dark. Similarly, the larger pipes on the sides of buildings in the West Village that stand facing opposite sides seemed to be couples arguing capriciously.
There is always humor hidden in buildings. Some hide hints of German sarcasm (Anabelle Selldorf), other just outward silliness (Kazuo Shinohara), others display naive detailing that is, simply, beautiful. I grew up surrounded by the latter kind. What my professor tried to describe to me as intuitive design or, in a way, architecture without architects. Many buildings in Ecuadorian cities and in the countryside are designed, built, and dwelled in by the same people; and, of course not everyone is a trained architect. Like a chef trying to dance ballet, buildings designed by non-architects hold the same charm that the positions of drain pipes do. I am ignorant of who places these drain pipes—marginal parts of our urban environment—or if anyone does it according to the buildings, but regardless, they are part of our urban experience. However, they very often go unnoticed. After all, why would you care about what a drain pipe has to say? I do not even know what it does.
However, it turns out that with a bit of patient observation, drain pipes might speak to very instinctual parts of our being. I see a divorce with twin children when I see a certain set of pipes in the Greenwich Village—perhaps just a reflection of my psyche (but I do not have a twin). Although, I see it more as an acknowledgement to these static, common parts of the city that receive little attention. That is, also, a reflection of how I perceive and assign value to material objects (even public ones). Regardless of the very technological precedence of these pipes, their relationship to a designed urban area and the contrast they make to symmetrical and geometrical buildings is appealing and worth recording. In their very own way, small details like these exemplify a New York City vernacular. Perhaps not a traditional, ancestral style, but a valid example of the “industrial vernacular” in an city setting—a functional object with found beauty.