On Living Pipes

In 8. The Vernacular Landscape, Uncategorized by Alejandro Ribadeneira3 Comments

Cuddles In A Corner: Alejandro Ribadeneira V.

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.

Divorce With Twins: Alejandro Ribadeneira V.

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.


  1. Hey Alejandro! I read your post and found it to be very unique and interesting. Yeah I also don’t know what the drain pipes do. And I also agree that small details like that often go unnoticed daily, but are a part of our daily lives living in NYC.

  2. Alejandro!!! I love this post!! First, I really enjoy how descriptive and detailed your analysis is for how whimsical the subject matter is. I feel like you could turn this into a really excellent short film on architecture for children, or architecture as poetry. These two lines were my favorite:

    “After all, why would you care about what a drain pipe has to say? I do not even know what it does.”

    More seriously, I can really emphasize with some of the ideas you’ve addressed here. I’m curious to know if you took those photos specifically for this assignment, or if you took them for your own personal reasons and then found them applicable. I’ve just recently gotten seriously re-involved in photography, and suddenly am reading the city entirely differently than I had two months ago. When I first moved to New York, I would draw water towers a lot, thinking it was interesting how they all seemed very similar but became very different the longer you looked at them. Your post reminds me of this because I definitely had a distinct thought that it was very poetic how essential they were to city life, but how lonely they must have been to be sitting solo at the tops of buildings. Most of the drawings were the towers in isolation, against a blank backdrop of clouds and blue-gray skies. Since I’ve started up with photography again, shapes are suddenly no longer merely forms of the built environment, but can become animated and humanlike when flattened to a two dimensional image. It is easy to think of an industrial vernacular from this perspective.

    Last note- would love to hear you talk more about the two architects referenced in this post! I gave them a quick Google, but it sounds like you have a more complex appreciation for them that would be really interesting to better understand.

  3. I LOVE this Alejandro! You thoughtfully and with such humor explore the overlooked urban fabric. They truly feel like people you pass on a street that have their own lives and thoughts. That fight and show affection just like people except that they are stationary pipes. It is interesting how you mention that the analysis of these pipes are perhaps just reflections of your psyche. It seems like the built environment is relational. We physically and mentally engage with it.

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