Somewhere between art, architecture and comic books, The Tower of Twelve Stories is a 1:1 section model of a fictional apartment building. Standing at 52 feet, this structure exposes the interior of a stack of cartoonish bubbles against an architectural cut. The bubbles are at times snug, but other times supporting each other on tangent points of curves behaving in compression.
Rem Koolhaas’ article titled Typical Plan (1993), there was a declaration of the values of the deep, rectangular, neutral, repetitious platforms for pure objectivity. Typical Plan affords a characterless environment fit for indeterminacies and open possibilities. However, the flipside of flexibility is the lack of specificity. Son of Man (Magritte, 1946) is the perfect embodiment of a plan without character, as he is a man without character, a castrated white-collar caricature, the opposite of a cross-dressing weirdo like Cindy Sherman. With specificity, there is the possibility for eccentricity – a person with exact disobedience to normalcies. A tower without typical plans, but rather specific rooms with specific geometries, will demand atypical actions. Cartoonish Metropolis (Lai, 2012) was a drawing that articulates exactly the notions of atypical life. The tiny bubble-like worlds are populated by eccentric characters.
Tower of Twelve Stories is also a nod to the Leonard Cohen classic “Tower of Song,” whose lyrics refer to observations— “I said to Hank Williams, how lonely does it get? Hank Williams hasn’t answered me yet but I can hear him coughing – all night long. A hundred floors above me, in the tower of song.”
This project also reengages the tradition of the tripartite stack of early skyscrapers in the 20th Century. Architect Louis Sullivan was one of the forerunners who gave logic to tall buildings, with the stacking of the three basic components (podium-typical plans-crown), a composition not dissimilar to the classical columns (base-shaft-capital). This vertical stack accentuates a social hierarchy, where the crown becomes an expression of inaccessibility. In The Tower of Twelve Stories, the cartoonish bubbles contain oblique surfaces that suggest differences of orientation depending on the perspective of viewers. It offers no podium, no crown, and no typical plans.
Constructed with a steel endoskeleton and clad with lumber, the white-painted structure comes alive especially at night with dramatic embedded lighting design and projected images. Designed with the festival audience and hot climate in mind, The Tower of Twelve Stories casts a long shadow that serves as a canopy during the daytime. It is like a large stencil that sprays tiny humans into a shaped silhouette against the scorching sun. Or, a very large bounce board for photographers chasing music gods.
The engineering was developed by Nous Engineering, headed by Matthew Melnyk. The steel was constructed by White’s Steel, and the rest of the construction was performed by Tom Rice of Rice Construction. The lighting was executed by the fine works of Felix Lighting. The project design team included members of Bureau Spectacular, Jimenez Lai, Steve Martinez, Roojiar Sadeghilalabadi, and Man Yan Lam. We worked closely with Raffi Lehrer and Paul Clemente throughout this process.
The Tower of Twelve Stories is the largest project of Bureau Spectacular to date.