Pretty Cool for A School

Does the privately owned, for-profit Edison Schools have something to teach the public sector about how to build a classroom?

Not only is the EdLab not your father’s schoolhouse, it’s not one that you–nor most kids today–would recognize, either. There are no blackboards, no bookcases, no cartoon posters, no windows through which to ponder drifting clouds and daydream. This prototype classroom of the future, designed for Edison Schools by New York architect Leslie Gill in collaboration with graphic artists Doyle Partners and lighting designer L’Observatoire, is resolutely focused on technology. “Much of this [concept] stems from the philosophical belief that if you don’t have technology, you won’t be able to function in American society,” says Gill.

Edison Schools, based in New York, is a for-profit corporation (NASDAQ: EDSN) that operates 113 public charter schools around the country in “partnerships” with local school districts. Christopher Whittle, Edison’s controversial founder and CEO, is also known for launching Channel One, an educational cable news system that drew fire in 1989 by streaming advertising into classrooms (see “Balancing Act,” page 42). Edison plans to manufacture an undetermined number of EdLab modules, along with online courses and videos, and will begin introducing them throughout its network of 113 schools by 2003.

Gill took the job skeptically and then visited several Edison schools. “I was absolutely won over,” she says. “There’s a sense of community and a level of responsibility that you rarely see anywhere else. I rarely heard negative criticism. If somebody wants silence, they just raise a finger, and everyone waits for him or her to speak.”

Gill hired a contractor to build full-scale mock-ups of parts of the classroom as she worked on the design. The job progressed with blazing speed–five months from inception to three working prototypes installed in schools in Colorado Springs, Colorado; Wichita, Kansas; and Lansing, Michigan. “Having these full-scale mock-ups allowed us to be so much more creative,” Gill says. “We started with panels, then a corner mock-up 15 by 20 by 8 feet to test lighting. Our drawings would be taken directly into shop drawings by the general contractor and built in two or three days.”

The three prototypes are now in their second semester of pilot use. The Colorado EdLab was manufactured in New York and assembled on-site; local contractors built the others. All are modular assemblies consisting of a vertical steel frame, a translucent plastic wall liner, and furniture accommodating up to 60 students. Completely self-contained, they slip into existing building envelopes: The modular pieces of the EdLab are carried into the interior space cleared for them and assembled inside. The size can be juggled to fit the enclosure. (The Colorado box is 38 by 40 by 8 feet.) Inside, student desks lock into modular “pods” of four that form a work group. Every student faces a laptop computer with an online connection, and a big screen for video “distance learning” fronts the room.

So that the lighting can be totally controlled and used to manipulate both perception and mood, there are no windows. The walls, says Gill, “are not perceived as barriers, but as mutable boundaries [where] light, color, and transparency entice students to broaden their horizons.” Light can either illuminate the walls from behind or fall onto them, and the idea is to move the students’ perceptual horizons. “The physical boundaries are constant, but the visual boundaries are playing tricks with you,” Gill explains. “You’re trying to make young children understand a very amorphic sense of the world they live in. On one hand, they are there with their classmates and teacher, and that constitutes their orbit. On the other, the way they’re learning brings a very different sense of boundary. So abstractly, we’re trying to make that concept not frightening, but intriguing.”

Of the several classroom-management lighting schemes that L’Observatoire designed as part of the teacher’s “control center,” one creates a cocoon of light enveloping each pod, isolating it in a darkened classroom to build a sense of highly focused teamwork. Another pours white lighting toward the front of the room, focusing attention on the teacher.

EdLabs won’t replace all the spontaneity, clutter, and sense of individuality of traditional homerooms–nor were they intended to. EdLabs are “the new auditoriums, the special places within the school,” says Gill. In the pilot program, students meet in them for one period a day.

Fifth-grade teacher Tom Schuck uses a prototype EdLab at Roosevelt-Edison Charter School in Colorado Springs for a health-science unit called “The Human System.” He’s become a believer. “I think it’s the wave of the future,” he says. “I’ve never been a teacher who lust gets up in front of the class and talks, and this kind of structure really suits my collaborative style.”

Schuck typically will lecture for two to five minutes, then let the students work with their computers at their own pace as he wanders around and answers questions. The interactive classroom design, he says, frees him to offer much more individualized attention. And the technology-rich environment is exactly what his students need. Roosevelt-Edison is an inner-city school serving a lot of transient and low-income families that don’t have computing power at home.

What amazes Schuck most is the effectiveness of the lighting design. “Comparing it with other classrooms is like night and day,” he says. “I can have discipline problems in math class but when they walk in here, it’s totally different. When they’re working at their pods, it’s so soothing, you can just feel it in the air. They know [that] when that lighting comes on, it’s time to settle down and get the work done. There’s also an ‘enter-exit’ lighting scheme, and you should hear the noise level increase when that comes on.”

Schuck says he would rather not see Edison’s entire teaching strategy go into the EdLab environment. “I think the EdLab is great to have in the mix,” he says, “but to be in it all day would be a mistake.” At this point, EdLab is a petri dish in which to learn just how thoroughly the Edison idea of fully integrated teaching and technology can be realized. Gill sees even more in it, describing its concept in terms that are almost spiritual: The design objective is “to visually suggest worlds other than the world you’re standing in, but at the same time affirm the worth of you as an individual working at your pod or in the classroom.” As subjects in the experiment, Schuck’s Colorado fifth graders don’t exactly think in those terms, but they have an opinion. “The kids have a sense of ownership: ‘It’s ours, so we’d better take care of it’,” he observes. “And they think it’s cool.”

Christopher Whittle, founder, president, and CEO of Edison Schools, has tried to bring private-sector ideas to public education for most of his 30-year career. First, in 1970, he founded Whittle Communications, a Knoxville, Tennessee–based publisher of student magazines. Then, in 1989, he launched Channel One, a company that provided television equipment to public schools in exchange for the broadcast of an in-class television show, complete with paid advertisements. Critics shrieked that students should not be captive to commercials, and Channel One hemorrhaged money.

Whittle sold Channel One in 1994, while raising money for his new venture: Edison Schools, a for profit company which would pilot public schools. Eager to prove his critics wrong after the failure of Channel One, Whittle recruited former Yale University president Benno Schmidt as chairman of the company, and in August, 1995, Edison opened its first four schools.

Local school districts and public charter school boards contract with the company to take over individual schools in return for public per-pupil funding, which on average amounts to a little over $5,000 per student per year. As of November 2000, Edison was in charge of approximately 57,000 students in 113 schools in 27 states across the country.

The company has to balance business with academics. To fulfill its promises to parents and educators, Edison must keep teachers happy, and raise its students’ grades above those of students at other public schools. (Edison claims it has succeeded in this regard, but critics argue that no one outside the company has been allowed to analyze the raw data.) To satisfy its investors, the company must eventually turn a profit.

Edison’s business plan rides on cost savings it claims result from centralization. Because it administrates lesson plans, orders supplies, and pays salaries out of a centralized system, Edison isn’t burdened by the district-by-district costs associated with public schools. “If you have the same program going on in all the schools,” says John Chub, chief educational officer for Edison, “it’s easier to support.”

According to its SEC filings, Edison is desperate to cut costs right now. As of September of last year, Edison Schools had a deficit of at least $196.9 million. For each school it opens, Edison trains teachers, pays their salaries, buys books and materials, upgrades or builds facilities (Edison claims to have built 30 percent of its schools itself), and, after the first year of business, provides computers to each student above the second-grade level.

But while centralized management may help ease debt, it doesn’t necessarily sit well with teachers. At San Francisco’s Edison Academy, promised raises and reduced working hours couldn’t prevent more than 60 percent of the school’s teachers from leaving last summer. Teachers also complain that Edison’s cookie-cutter approach to curriculum defies one prominent contemporary educational theory: that lesson plans must be adapted to the learning patterns of each student, rather than being imposed system-wide.

Still, Edison has managed to infuse badly needed resources and hope into ailing school districts. But as the purse strings are pulled tighter by Edison’s creditors and the company’s critics howl at the windows, it remains to be seen whether the company can maintain its focus, or whether Whittle will retreat yet again.

Metal-Morphosis

Aluminum has been fashioned into everything from jewelry to dresses, airships to architecture. Raul A. Barreneche reviews related exhibitions that explore this once precious, now common metal.

Andrew Carnegie’s steel empire made him one of the world’s richest men, and Pittsburgh, his adopted hometown, one of the most polluted cities on the globe. Aluminum production joined steel manufacturing as Pittsburgh’s top industries during World War II, just a decade before the city abdicated industrial brawn for cleaner pursuits, like finance, high-tech, and culture. Fifty years later, the legacy of metal is being remembered–appropriately, by one of the institutions that emerged as a result of local robber barons’ far-reaching philanthropy.

The Carnegie Museum of Art has produced three related exhibitions devoted to objects made from the once precious, now common metal: Aluminum by Design: Jewelry to Jets is a sweeping survey supplemented by Alumi-Nuts: Collectors’ Confessions, which showcases aluminum decorative objects from the private collections of local aficionados. And, the Carnegie Museum’s Heinz Architectural Center has organized Aluminum in Contemporary Architecture, a small exhibit of aluminum’s architectural applications in the last decade.

Aluminum by Design traces the soft alloy’s evolution from a decorative precious metal in the mid-1800s to the cheap, recyclable container of soft drinks today. Austrian architect Otto Wagner pioneered aluminum’s architectural use in his gilded fin-de-siecle facades, including the Postal Savings Bank in Vienna (1906), in which bolts capped with aluminum heads were both a constructional device and a decorative motif.

Inexpensive, readily available, easy to manipulate, strong, and lightweight, aluminum was a crucial commodity during World War II. After the war, however, manufacturers had to push designers to find new uses for the metal, to keep their idle plants going. Designers from Isamu Noguchi to Charles and Ray Eames began looking to this polished metal, and along the way, aluminum came to symbolize the very essence of modernity. Aluminum by Design charts its evolution and symbolism up to the present, from Pace Rabanne’s iconic aluminum-disc dress of 1969 to the innovative recent furniture of Ron Arad and Marc Newson.

Aluminum in Contemporary Architecture focuses on nine recent buildings which demonstrate different aspects of the material’s suitability to architecture. For Norman Foster’s Scottish Exhibition and Conference Center in Glasgow (1998), huge rolls of aluminum are draped on an armadillo-like steel structure. Future Systems’ NatWest Media Center at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London (1994) is a semi-monocoque aluminum pod, in which the shell is both skin and structure.

In tracing aluminum’s overlooked history, Carnegie’s three exhibitions demonstrate that its economy, performance, and seemingly limitless aesthetic possibilities still draw designers to this malleable metal, over a hundred years after its discovery.

Dire Straits

Intended to foster Scandinavia’s growth as an economic super-region, the new Oresund bridge appears to be a flop. Nicholas Adams jaunts between Sweden and Denmark to find out why.

Last July, the Oresund Fixed Link, or Oresundbron, connecting Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, and Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city, opened to much fanfare. Designed to heal the 10-million-year-old rift in the earth’s surface that placed Denmark on one side a five-mile strait of water and Sweden on the other, the bridge has been praised as both visionary and expeditious: The big idea behind the Oresundbron–a $2 billion venture funded by both the Danish and Swedish governments, completed on time and under budget–was to stitch together a new super-region that would be able to compete with Europe’s economic powerhouses. You could almost hear Mother Europe’s corsets pop. Small and Medium had become Large and Xtra-Large almost overnight!

Yet every bridge has its share of potholes. Oresundbron’s became apparent when road traffic plummeted from more than 15,000 a day in its opening months to barely 6,000 this fall. Summer travelers melted away with the colder weather, and as the novelty of the bridge wore off, the hard truth of it high tolls hit the pavement. One-way fares of about $27 have deterred many; even companies with business in both countries have gone so far as to ban employees from using the bridge, instructing them to use the cheaper, if slower, ferries.

The 10-mile link was intended to unify the Scandinavian countries economically–as well as culturally and symbolically. Its planners envisioned Swedes munching pastries in Copenhagen cafes, and Danes taking in art exhibitions across the strait. They also hoped that the “Noridc Chunnel” would boost and spread foreign tourism in the region. But the jaunt is not as easy as it should be. I recently qualified as a perfect candidate for the cultural tourist anticipated by bridge backers: Finding myself free in Lund (north of Malmo), I decided to spend an afternoon sightseeing in Copenhagen. Though admittedly a nervous driver and an English speaker with minimal Swedish, I had difficulty finding the entrance to the bridge! I never saw the word “Oresundbron” or even a bridge symbol. Here I was, eager to experience the new Europe, armed with platinum cards and curiosity, and I couldn’t find the onramp. Eventually I was set right, but the high tolls persuaded me to make the crossing by the much cheaper train on the brid ge’s lower deck.

Access to the bridge seems more an insider’s backway than a transnational junction, perhaps because the management of auto traffic has been a touchy issue since the project began. With Scandinavia’s strong green movement, environmental issues have occupied a significant part of the bridge debate from the outset and played a role in mapping the routes. Environmentalists have acknowledged that engineers did an excellent job of protecting wildlife during the bridge’s construction on land and over water. Still, auto traffic is auto traffic, and it spells pollution. Further, the new access roads and entry exchanges have brought–along with office parks for the relatively eco-friendly high-tech firms that every city seems to want–American-style shopping centers and vast asphalt parking lots.

“It is a catch-22,” says Anders Roth, formerly a traffic analyst for the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. “Without more cars, the bridge will not pay for itself and taxes will have to be raised; with more cars they will violate environmental standards and create more pollution.” The Oresundbron authorities know on which side its crisp bread is buttered. With a massive debt and pledges to make the bridge entirely self-sufficient, they are now pushing a discount plan for frequent users (the more you travel, the more you save). What all this means, of course, is more cars and more pollution.

Environmentalists and skeptics challenged the bridge for these very reasons all along. Early on, some advocated a shorter link between the Swedish town of Helsingborg and the Danish burg of Helsingor (north of the current bridge). “It would have been cheaper and more efficient,” says urban historian Thomas Hall of Stockholm University. But local politicians in Malmo and Copenhagen favored the fixed link for obvious reasons–more commercial and cultural opportunities. The current site is also more southerly; in other words, closer to Europe. “The goal is to tie the countries to Europe with a modern road system,” says Copenhagen architect and journalist Allan de Waal. “Their next project is the cross-Zealand motorway and bridge which will make it possible to drive directly from Copenhagen to Hamburg or Berlin.” To American ears it all sounds very familiar. (Is Robert Moses smiling?)

Oresundbron’s achievements, so far, are slight. Newspapers have had their fun with stories of Swedes dashing off to Denmark for cheap beer, and Danes going to Sweden for cheap building materials. “The truth is,” says de Waal, “while Malmo has many appealing things, I have only been there twice in the last 20 years. And even with the bridge, I am probably not going to change my habits. The Oresundbron is a very long-term proposal.” That’s exactly what its builders have banked on.

For his sabbatical from Vassar College, where he has taught architectural history and theory since 1989, Nicholas Adams is studying contemporary Swedish architecture. “The last time America was really interested in Swedish architecture,” Adams says, “was 50 years ago. It’s probably the Scandinavian country whose architecture we know the least about.” Adams recently edited The Architectural Drawings of Antonio da Samgallo the Younger and His Circle (MIT Press, 2000). He also coedited the December 1999/January 2000 issue of Casabella. For this issue, Adams writes for our Culture section on the new bridge connecting Copenhagen, Denmark, to Malmo, Sweden

Curriculum Vito

Since the 1970s Vito Acconci’s performance art and installations have actively engaged both people and public places. He tells Cathy Lang Ho why architecture is his focus now.

Vito Acconci crops up in art histories under a range of categories–conceptual, performance, body, and installation art, to name a few. But he remains absent from architectural annals, despite the fact that, for 10 years now, he has not undertaken independent art projects, having founded his own design practice, Acconci Studio, in 1990. Though not trained as an architect, most of his staff of seven are. Out of his Brooklyn studio, they produce a dozen or so design projects a year, mostly commissions for public works.

Your arrival to architecture follows an interesting trajectory–from writing to performance to installations to public art. How do you explain this progression?

When I was writing, I found myself mostly interested in the question of movement–how you move across a page, how you move from left margin to right margin, from page to page. I was using the page as a field for movement. I was interested in parts that existed as a route.

But while writing, I always thought I wasn’t really a writer. This concern with movement started to become the movement of me: “I do things to myself.” Eventually, [the performance pieces] felt too self-enclosed. I had been treating “self” as something that could be isolated, but by the 1970s, a lot of people, including myself, had very different notions of self–we thought of self as a kind of system of feelers that only existed because of a social, cultural, and political system. I felt I had to do something with other people. I began to think of art as a way an artist or a person in a gallery or room could meet other persons in the room. To me, art was a kind of exchange, a kind of meeting place. I started to do more installations, treating the gallery as a sort of town square.

Your art was transforming space into a public forum.

I had been using exhibition spaces as a place for people to come together anyway, but then I started thinking, Now that they’re here, could some community be formed? They have something to see and to listen to, but there’s nothing they can do. I started thinking more about how people could create and use the spaces they’re in. I always thought of space as a kind of event for people. In the 1980s, the pieces became a sort of “self-erecting architecture.” In one piece, there were four panels on the floor, covered with American flags. There’s a swing hanging above them, and when a person sits in it and swings, the panels rise up around him, making it an instant house. I guess that’s where the pieces started to get more architectural.

Is it worth distinguishing between art that is architectural, and architecture that is artful?

As far as my own work was concerned, I just started to doubt that it had anything to do with art, and felt it had more to do with architecture and landscape architecture. My work always grew out of its immediate context or the landscape. A lot of my 1980s work played with the conventions of house, but I realized that even if they have a function–as a sign–you still can’t live in them. That’s when I began to feel that my work had to be more than just demonstrations. I wanted it to be buildings or spaces that remained. But projects that are permanent and exist in a public space can’t start from one person s work alone. If you start something private, it ends private. That’s why I started Acconci Studio [in 1990].

Was the transition difficult to make?

I did a show at the MoMA in 1988 called Public Places, and after that I thought, I have to take this seriously–I really have to do stuff in public places, which means I have to work the way an architect works. What I like about public spaces is that people walk by or pass through them. What bothers me about a lot of art is that people have to first make the decision that they are going to be an art viewer, and then go to see an artwork or installation. I’m more interested in the passerby than the art viewer. People decide for themselves whether or not the space is useful.

But your designs do straddle the ground between art or folly and architectural or landscape design. For example, for your bicycle parking lot in a park in the Hague, you’ve elevated the lot among trees, which makes its access challenging.

When were doing it, a friend of mine said the same thing: “It’s so difficult for a person to go up a ramp to park a bicycle.” But at the same time, elevating it creates more space below to make something else–a covered garden or something. You also create the opportunity for users to have a more varied experience, different views, and so on.

It’s not that we want to make things hard for people. We want these things to mix with the world around them. We are trying to create a fluid, changing space, where you’re not sure where the boundaries are. Even with my early installations, I never wanted to have a thing within a space, but rather, wanted to have a space become a thing, or a thing become a space. I wanted the landscape to become the architecture, or the architecture to sink back into the landscape, so that you would have fluid, continuous space–so you don’t separate a thing from its surroundings.

Why is this important to me? The absence of any hierarchy means that a user or person can determine what’s more important, at whatever different times. I’m a child of the 1960s, when the thinking was: People are instrumental, they decide how to use something instead of being told how to use it. That is the basis for most of our work.

How did you come to the equation that public art is architecture? It’s important to me that my work is in the public realm, and that it’s useful. What do either of these things mean, anyway? “Art” is just a way of thickening the plot. I don’t know what separates us from practices like Bernard Tschumi’s or Asymptote’s.

You probably face the same dilemma that many experimental architects face: When the work appears to be wild and wiggly, many people have a difficult time relating to them as real, viable design projects.

Sometimes people like wiggles. Builders don’t, but people do. In a lot of our work, we take space and turn it inside out or upside down–and people feel liberated by that. Sometimes wiggles inspire people to feel involved, invigorated. Wiggles can tie people together, just as it ties itself together.

Is buildability important to you?

I do think it’s important to build. Nothing we do is ever purely fantasy. They might be difficult, they might cost more, but none of these things are impossible–in most cases, the technology to realize them does exist. And every project, whether it’s built or unbuilt, is a study, a model. For example, the World Health Organization/UNICEF commissioned us to design a playground that could be produced in numbers and installed in many different countries. We had to have something that would have its own space. We came up with a playground that we’re calling the Klein Bottle, which is a sort of 3-D Mobius strip. The neck of the bottle comes out then goes back inside of itself, so that inside and outside get mixed up. It would be transparent, made of some form of molded polycarbonate. It’s a continuous space, from inside to outside. I don’t know if it’s going to get made, but regardless, it will be a model for other things. The Klein Bottle Playground could be the Klein Bottle House. Or it could be a model for a c ity.

How does your identity as an artist affect your ability to work as a designer?

We are fortunate that we are asked to a lot of different kinds of things–like a skateboard park in Avignon, the design shop for the MAK Center in Vienna, a light installation/phone booths in the new San Francisco Airport terminal, a new city on a garbage dump in Tel Aviv. But we would love to be asked to do a building or a private house.

Doing Justice?

The prison boom in the U.S. has been good to architects, but how much has it helped reduce crime? New estimates vary, Bradford McKee looks at the numbers.

With the popularity of three-strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes, and truth-in-sentencing rules guiding the courts, architects who design prisons and jails have had their hands full of work over the past several years. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that the nation spends about $25 billion per year building and operating prisons, about $1.3 billion of which goes toward construction and renovation of prison facilities. The federal prison budget rose by 160 percent between 1990 and 1996, and the country now has about 2 million people behind bars–four times the number it did 20 years ago. Crime rates dropped dramatically, by as much as 8 to 10 percent nationwide in 1999. But are the two phenomena linked? Several new studies by justice experts indicate that the effect of rising incarceration rates on falling crime rates may be moderate to negligible.

In September, the nonprofit Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, released the results of a state-by-state survey suggesting that the states with the highest increases in prisoner population saw the lowest reductions in crime. Twenty states where prisoner populations swelled most (an average 72 percent rise) between 1991 and 1998 experienced a 13 percent drop in crime, whereas the remaining 30 states, where inmate populations rose an average 30 percent, saw crime drop by an average of 17 percent. The findings, said Jenni Gainsborough, a coauthor of the study, “shed serious doubt” on the idea that falling crime rates can be attributed to higher incarceration levels.

Texas, for instance, had the highest jump in prisoner population–144 percent–during the seven years the Sentencing Project studied, while crime in Texas dropped by 35 percent. California’s incarceration rate, however, rose by only 52 percent and that state saw a 36 percent drop in crime. Figures from New York show that its prisoner count went up by only 24 percent, yet its crime dropped by 43 percent.

The most influential factors in the 1990s nationwide crime drop, the Sentencing Project contends, were a strong economy (especially low unemployment), shifts in the drug trade (particularly the wane of crack cocaine use), and innovative policing tactics.

But the estimated cost of preventing one murder in the past decade came to $13.4 million per year and, statistically speaking, meant locking up 670 prisoners, says University of Missouri–St. Louis criminology professor Richard Rosenfeld. His latest study, published in a new book titled The Crime Drop in America (Cambridge), suggests that the recent spike in incarceration rates may be responsible for 25 percent of the drop in the homicide rate.

Yet, criminology specialists differ on the degree to which they believe imprisonment has cut crime. In the same book carrying Rosenfeld’s study, a report by William Spelman, a public policy professor at the University of Texas at Austin, concluded much the same, that incarceration gets credit for one-quarter of the recent crime-rate drop. Yet another recent analysis by Anne Piehl, a public policy professor at Harvard University, finds that between 1989 and 1999, only 5 percent of crime reduction could be chalked up to incarceration alone.

Regardless of whether more prisons mean less crime, Rosenfeld maintains, if crime rates continue to fall, architects who design prisons may find themselves with fewer projects. Politicians have had an easy time scaring the public into building more prisons while crime rates were rising. Not only does less crime translate to fewer inmates overtime, but as crimes rates drop, the public may start to look at those expenditures more skeptically, knowing that, ultimately, they bear the costs of building and operating new facilities.

The television ad aired recently in northern Virginia looks predictable enough: It shows traffic-choked roads and earth movers making way for new suburban settlements. A voice warns of the destruction of the region’s idyllic horse country by “runaway” population growth. But it’s not an environmental group making this doomsday appeal–it’s an anti-immigrant outfit called the Coalition for the Future of the American Worker, which is backed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform. But neo-nationalists are not the only ones who have decided that a fear of foreigners feeds handily into antisprawl rhetoric: A faction within the Sierra Club that calls itself Sierrans for U.S. Population Stabilization is pushing a referendum within the conservation group to make tighter immigration controls an official policy goal.

“Mass immigration is the engine driving the U.S. to double its population next century,” says the maverick Sierrans’ Web site, “and thus needs to be discussed as an active component of Sierra Club population policy.” The conflict has presented a vulnerability on which, with the mother club’s bete noire, the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), has pounced. “The vote is being pushed by rank-and-file Sierra Club activists,” not renegades, insists Gary Hambly, president and CEO of the Home Builders Association of Northern California in San Ramon, accusing the Sierra Club of being “connected with anti-immigration groups.”

Last spring, the NAHB estimated that the country will need 15 million new homes over the next decade to meet the demand of new households, and attributed part of the demand to immigrants. Slightly fewer than 1 million people immigrate to the U.S. legally each year. The anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington jumped on NAHB’s statistics nonetheless, claiming that, yes, indeed, mass immigration is one of sprawl’s “root causes.” This may surprise some recent immigrants to suburbia who arrived to find it pretty well established–by all those immigrants who preceded them. B.M.

Green Giant

On an island of the Danube in the new district of Donau City, where Vienna’s United Nations complex is located, a neighborhood of social housing towers has recently sprung up, and all but one march to the same drummer. Built with similar massing and height, they differ mostly in exterior styling. In Vienna, as everywhere else in a globalized economy of Manhattanized skylines, high-rise buildings have proved resistant to experimentation and change, constrained by precedent, engineering, codes, real-estate formulas, conservative financing, and the simple physics of the elevator.

Avowed enemies of the box, Wolf Prix and Helmut Swiczinsky, the two principals of Coop Himmelblau, have long believed that varied rather than uniform spaces enrich lives. With the SEG building, a project like any other in the city of Vienna’s workaday “social housing” program, they designed a concrete-frame apartment tower that is conventional in its structure and morphology, but they reconceived the facade, public spaces, and air handling systems in ways that cumulatively radicalize the whole, and create the city’s most significant “green” building. Each of the innovations is simple and relatively inexpensive, but their sum total proves that in architecture, as in chaos theory, simple systems can breed complexity. The architects paid for their innovations by using industrial materials: Galvanized-metal railings, subway grate fences, and other standardized off-the-shelf parts replaced the one-of-a-kind details and elegant materials that the architects usually try to design into their structures.

It is the SEG’s Tower of Pisa profile that first lures people off their usual paths, inviting Viennese to be unexpected tourists in their own town. First, the architects cantilevered each of the 25 floors on the northwest face ever so slightly, so that the entire wall inclines at a 3-degree angle. The coordinated cantilever creates a line of apartments that grows wider on higher floors, so that the top apartments are noticeably bigger than the lower ones, and differently configured: This changing geometry allows different views, and the 3-degree slope of the wall makes the interiors intriguingly, but not uncomfortably, strange.

On the southwest facade, a building-wide glass loggia with operable floor-to-ceiling louvers acts as a protected balcony that extends Vienna’s outdoor season into the winter for all apartments. On the adjacent south-facing side of the building, the architects cantilever generous balconies of differing sizes within a leaning, all-glass, 14-story “climate lobby” fitted with computer-controlled louvers. This vertical winter garden is housed in a corner chamfered to catch breezes and maximize southern light, and residents now water their hydrangeas and geraniums all year long in the company of neighbors above, below, and to the side, as if on the terraced hillsides of Positano, Italy.

Internally the structure behaves like a lung. The climate lobby, an air exchange box on the roof, and an elevator shaft all work together to circulate warm and cool air in summer and winter. Computers control the louvers on the chamfered and inclined glass wall. Here the louvered glass is independent of each terrace, bypassing the balconies and allowing air to circulate so freely that the louvered wall effectively forms a chimney that exhausts up through a vent at the top of the space. The rising hot air draws cool air through a vent off an elevator shaft. The fronts of each balcony are fitted with vents that flap shut in the event of a fire in the atrium. As on the southwest facade, the louvered wall acts to condition the air that forms a protective environmental blanket around the main structure.

There are 10 two-level apartments with double-height terraces within the climate lobby, as well as flats ranging in size from studios to three-bedrooms. The terraces and balconies on the south and southwest faces provide much-appreciated outdoor space. Enclosed in glass, these exterior zones act as greenhouses, buffering the interiors with a protective layer of air. “The content is more important than the form,” observes Prix.

Architects nurtured in the demonstrations of the ’60s are especially conscious about how space helps shape a sense of community, and Prix and Swiczinsky created the open balconies in the climate lobby in what Prix calls a social experiment to warm up the frosty social life which is characteristic of most high-rises. Stacking floors in the usual pancake tends to isolate residents by cutting off any communication between stories, leaving only the lobby, elevator, and landings–venues for passing conversations at best.

In addition to their Positano-like terraces, the architects have placed a clamorous, glass-enclosed bicycle garage next to a generous lobby to encourage community: On the ninth floor, they introduced a “sky lobby” made of several communicating rooms and a sundeck, for formal and informal meetings. The architects earned the space within unforgiving economics by shaving off several inches from the standard thickness of each floor slab; over the height of the building, the inches added up to an extra floor.

The autobiography as a living building can be read on the balcony facades, where cacti, ficus, and philodendra commingle with jeans and T-shirts hanging out to dry. Books sit on balcony ledges next to TV reception dishes. Walter Czerny, on the 20th floor, has become a zealot of his apartment. He likes to lunch in a corner where the balcony juts beyond a concrete structural wall. The small, angular, breathtaking perch, a little like a trapeeze, gives him a vertiginous view of the sailboats and kayaks plying a back canal of the Danube, “This is the spot where I can catch that Himmelblau moment,” says Mr. Czerny. “This is where I fly.”

Chicago architect Louis Sullivan said that a tower should soar, but Emily Dickenson advised, in another context, “Make it slant”–that is, cultivate the unexpected. Coop Himmelblau’s housing is one of the few buildings anywhere that both soars and slants, while performing the social roles of precipitating a sense of community among its occupants and protecting the environment. Within the tradition of social housing in Vienna, the architects have shifted the paradigm from the old socialist model, where the uniformity of the units emphasized the collective identity of the proletariat. The SEG tower instead is all about the individuality of a different era: the variety of the units, plans tailored to each occupant, the uniqueness rather than conformity of the part within a whole, which itself is deliberately and philosophically eccentric. Rare is the high-rise typology rethought–from its skin to its core.

Office revolution

When Prime Minister Robert Menzies opened MLC’s new highrise headquarters in Miller Street, North Sydney, in August 1957, nearly all the faces in the crowd were sombre suited men. MLC was then the largest office building in Australia. Inside were gleaming interiors and marching rows of desks, all sporting the latest look in corporate efficiency. Outside, Bates Smart & McCutcheon’s glazed curtain wall was a triumph of engineering. Today, the building looks just as fresh. The facade has been restored by Bates Smart’s Sydney office following a conservation management plan prepared by Peter McKenzie for Jackson Teece Chesterman Willis. The result is an exemplary piece of sustainability. To restore a 1950s skyscraper takes some courage. Not every corporation chooses to revive a potential dinosaur. Restoration is not necessarily a cheap solution or a sensible investment. To their credit MLC chose to stay and they did so throughout the refurbishment process, Inside, the changes wrought were dramatic. The new interio r that is “Campus MLC” represents one of the most profound shifts in the history of postwar Australian office design.

The driving force in the process of creating Campus MLC was Rosemary Kirkby, MLC’s general manager of people. In 1985 Lend Lease had bought an ailing MLC and immediately set about turning its fortunes around. By the mid-i 990s, MLC had moved from its pyramidshaped hierarchy that oversaw the selling of life insurance to a “flat” structure of teams of people or business units who invented new products in the financial market. MLC, for example, was the first with internet on-line trading. The firm soon became hugely profitable and it’s no surprise that their new logo is “The Golden Egg”. Kirkby was acutely aware that the firm’s success was due to this new structure, which radically changed how people work, and also how they valued where they work. New spaces for Campus MLC were to be equally exciting, innovative, and different.

For the intensive consultative process that involved all MLC employees, Kirkby gathered together a team of design experts, including Debbie Berkhout, the Lend Lease Projects design manager, architects DEGW (Sydney), who provided programming data and coordinated the spatial integration of the various organisational units within MLC, and architect James Grose, of Bligh Voller Nield, who gave form to the resulting multitude of design ideas. Kirkby believed Grose’s expertise in residential design would bring an alternative way of thinking to the corporate interior. A one-week whirlwind tour of the “world’s best practice” in office design saw the team visit offices for Chiat Day in Los Angeles, Andersen Consulting in Chicago, Shell in The Hague, 3M in Paris, and, importantly, British Airways at Waterside near Heathrow (designed in 1989 by Norwegian architect Niels Torp and built 1995-97). This last complex sits on a 240 acre landscaped site and has as its major focus The Street, a 175 metre long glazed atrium that connects a series of low rise office slabs.

The message brought home was that for a totally new office landscape to succeed there needed to be a management commitment from top to bottom, and passionate engagement with the place and with people at all levels. There was also another factor to be considered. Kirkby explains it as follows: “Approximately seventy percent of MLC’s workforce are Generation X (i.e. those aged thirty-seven or less), who have entered the workforce during a period of unparalleled merger and acquisition activity. They understand the terms ‘downsizing’ and ‘right sizing’ and don’t expect, or seek, a ‘job for life’ as their grandfathers did in 1957…. They do not expect their careers to be linear; they may well change employer up to ten times, and may have several changes of career. For this generation, there is no stigma attached to being out of work for periods of time. Indeed work is increasingly seen as part of ‘lifestyle’.”

At Campus MLC, being at work might be preferable to going home! As Grose says, the task was to design “a place to meet” instead of “a place to work”. The commission was exactly the sort predicted by English office design guru and founder of DEGW, Francis Duffy. His books The Changing Workplace (1992) and The New Office (1997) speak of embracing new digital technologies and potentially rethinking the office analogically as hives, dens, cells, and clubs.

Under Grose’s direction, the first architectural response was to slice an open stair volume through eleven existing floors. This simple gesture was the most revolutionary — the creation of a vertical pedestrian street within a building type borne from the technology of the elevator. It was also an expensive slice, but one that would contribute to an “effective” not just “efficient” place/space. Each floor was then given a different name and themed accordingly, each having different furniture and different finishes. Level 3, for example, is the Zen Den. At one end of the lift lobby, with its Richard Goodwin sculpture, is a series of three dishes filled with stones to relieve stress, and, nearby, there are giant amoebic seat-forms. At the other end is a tropical fish tank. Behind the tank is a table that one has to climb up into to sit down — rather like eating at a Japanese restaurant. To use the white board you have to walk on the table. There is also no head of table. Another floor, with blue and yellow st riped carpet and industrial/warehouse type finishes, is called The Beach. There is also The Table level, which has a kitchen and a massive table where one can eat, meet, or have a board meeting. If it all sounds gimmicky or embarrassingly twee it’s not. When I visited, people were in fact earnestly having meetings over cafe latte on Cafe Level 6. Others were using the shrouded hospital curtain” meeting room, while a graffiti wall in one elevator lobby was clearly in use with Melbourne Cup sweep draws complementing business plans.

Grose freely admits that the life of the fitout probably coincides with a ten year cycle of office culture. This fashion for corporate renewal might have the same short life that open classrooms had in the 1970s. But the environment has a real sense of energy and activity. There is a sense too that the environment could change and adjust itself according to shifts in office culture. The original MLC floor plan, a central core flanked by two open floor plates forming an irregular H, is robust and ideally suited to such a radical rethinking of the generic office landscape.

There is also a practical side to all this. All computer services drop from the ceiling via simple galvanised steel service “posts”. There are fully adjustable work stations from Milan Unifor and no dedicated private offices throughout the entire eleven floors. Even the CEO, Peter Scott, doesn’t have an office. It is also an organisation that doesn’t require, for example, each employee to be surrounded by a library of books, or specialised equipment as required by doctors or radiologists. As an academic, I would be a certain pariah in such a place. There are hot-desks for interstate and visiting staff, numbers of four-person meeting rooms, and curved booths housing plotters and printers. All corners of the buildings are taken up not by offices but project rooms. No-one owns a window. There are green pods for quiet moments and quiet rooms for private phone conferences. The ends of each lift core all have small meeting rooms each with a different decor.

Outside, Bligh Voller Nield provided one element – a glass and steel-framed canopy that alludes to the steel-framing of the original building behind. The canopy’s glass roof makes one fully aware of the expanse of curtain wall above, and of the first floor level opening where originally a stair marked the entry to the building with a line of shops at ground level.

In such a complex collaborative weave of clients and architectural experts, the role of the solo architect has been jettisoned. There is no one author. Grose says this is not a traditional piece of architecture. That is true. While the architectural gestures are stylish, assured, and deliberate fun, what is innovative here is the entire package of program, architecture and the passion for change embraced by the organisation. Campus MLC has partial echoes in the 1989 decision to by ICI (now Orica) to retain ICI House in Melbourne (1955-58), and also the controversial baffle in the late 1990s to refurbish Howlett and Bailey’s Council House (1961) in Perth. Where MLC is different, though, is the revolution that has happened within the organisation itself. As Grose observes, such a commission could only be achieved with a receptive client, an egalitarian approach achieved through a consultative process (a process that is not necessarily architect-led), and, importantly, a brief to create an environment rather tha n an interior.

For architects trained in strategic thinking, here is a perfect model for change. Architects must understand the dramatic and profound shifts taking place in the workplace, and they must ensure that they too have the ability to change. It is not just the architect’s role which may change, but also perhaps the way architects work themselves, the way they work with others, and the way that client expectations may liberate architects’ own practices.

Melbourne Museum

Museums Victoria presents the Great Hall and the new Melbourne Museum as a complementary pair. The museum is the dominant partner, bringing the buildings and gardens together as a “visually interdependent whole”, clearly linked to the city as one of its major institutions. But it will bean institution like no other — a building which opens up to reveal in a simple way the fascination and complexity of its purpose to all who visit. It is be confident and mature, elegant and visionary; a key Melbourne building for the next 100 years.

The museum plan uses a campus mode: an arrangement of varied elements grouped together beneath a formal volumetric framework that constitutes a reference to the formality of the site and even evokes a sense of the Hoddle grid — a Melbourne icon.

At 70,000 square metres, the museum is a much bigger complex than the Great Hall, but it takes scale references from the hall. The Great Hall establishes scale by detailed embellishment within a monumental form; the museum by articulated volumes within a detailed frame. Its elevated central “Gallery of Life” contributes to its status as a complementary building in the Carlton Gardens with power and strength of its own.

The enveloping grid framework is a significant cant element of the design. Its formal qualities allow the complex and varied elements with the campus to read as individual components; separate elements, or example, the research centre, the Imax theatre, or the Aboriginal centre, have greater individuality than would be possible or appropriate without the ordering frame.

It is a building that is also a collection of buildings, where the landscape interpenetrates the forms and where garden and open activity space interact. It subtly lays claim to a powerful presence by its very interaction with the landscape; the gardens themselves become inclusive to its form. It is not a forbidden and impenetrable institution entered through closed doors.

Museums are not what they were. While they have become much more exciting places to visit — architectural bravura has played a large part in this — the raison d’etre for their massive collections and their display and conservation traditions has become less and less apparent. They face ethical dilemmas over what these collections are for and what they represent. And even over who really owns them. At the same time, the role of the museum beyond collecting and conserving has become diffuse. Museum research in “natural history” and ethnology was long ago overtaken by universities, and the institution’s traditional commitment to public education looks likely to be replaced with infotainment as it responds to pressures to demonstrate relevance — by getting as many people through the doors as possible. The concept of amenity and education as public investments has been usurped by a reduced view of these things as private goods.

It has been hard, in these circumstances, for the old urban dialogue between distinct public and commercial architectures to continue. This dialogue once defined the symbolic realm of the central city. Major urban interventions of recent years in Melbourne, at least, have blurred these differences, just as the territorial specificity of the central area is blurred in the ongoing CBD expansions south of the Yarra and those planned west of Spencer Street.

Denton Corker Marshall’s design for the new Melbourne Museum responds to these issues of institutional purpose and public profile — and turns them to strategic significance. In some regards spectacularly. The building re-asserts a role for public architecture in distinguishing the central city, for example, It clearly enjoys a site which makes this possible, on the slightly elevated rim that half encircles central Melbourne on its northern and eastern flanks and then runs down William Street. This rim, as the architects realised, links the site to that of the courts, Melbourne University, the hospitals on Victoria Parade, and the State Parliament and Treasury buildings — other places of strong, if now compromised, public significance. The old Exhibition Buildings (now in the museum’s care) used this locational advantage. Their dome, as historian Paul Fox points out, answered several other domes on public buildings in Melbourne elevated by topography or by tower (Arc bitecture Australia, June 1990). The long front wall of the museum building in effect forms a city wall to reinforce the older architectural marking of the place. It makes a new northern boundary for the extended CBO beyond the Hoddle grid.

The slight elevation of the museum site and the depth of space across Canton Gardens to Victoria Parade have offered an opportunity to look back from this wall to the city, seen principally as the eastern cluster of downtown commercial towers. The large museum plaza — too big to serve only as a forecourt — mediates between the urban scale and that of the building. The sense of the city as spectacle is further emphasised by the two roof blades that hover above the facade, diagonally framing the Exhibition Buildings opposite and the views to either side, It is as if the largest artefact in the museum collection is not so much the Exhibition Buildings as the city itself. A third blade is lined up along the museum’s principal north-south axis. Tilted more dramatically, it is apparent, not from the city side but from the back, even visible several kilometres away along the Eastern Freeway’s approach to the central city.

The Melbourne Museum addresses the urban issues raised by its site and the typological history of the public institutional building. It also confronts internal institutional problems now faced by museums — the role of research for instance. On the day of the new building’s public opening, a short article appeared in The Age about the Melbourne Museum’s request for an increase in its operational grant which had been declined by the Victorian Government. The comments by a staff union representative that the money was needed to stop further reductions in the museum’s research efforts were probably read by few of the thousands drawn by free performances and by publicity pumped out by the same newspaper (a major sponsor).

Architecture cannot solve the problem of research in the museum. But DCM’s design has, at least, been acutely aware of it. Research is rhetorically privileged in the place. Two big, sulphur yellow elongated boxes, housing a large part of the research collections, hang over the length of the main public circulation volume within the building, one either side of the centrally placed public entry. Offices for researchers and curators are lined up in rows in front of these storage boxes, with their glazed front walls just behind the glazed principal facade of the building. From the front, research and curatorship are somehow — if remotely — on display. It looks as if they count. But this arrangement is also a very practical one: the object and the agent of inquiry are placed immediately beside each other.

More important perhaps than the little flourish of idealism in the location and visibility of research accommodation is the careful orchestration, in the museum’s public areas, of circulation and exhibition, and the relation of exhibition zones to each other. Circulation areas are used in a limited way for display, especially for a few large iconic objects — a blue whale skeleton on the main public promenade, a ‘couta boat complete with unfurled sail in the high slice of space at the front of the building. A fantastic installation by artist Janet Laurence using specimen bird and animal skins, shells and minerals from the museum’s reserve collections currently occupies two vitrines in the upper level circulation spine. But in general the public areas of the building do not integrate circulation and exhibition into a single entity, Such integration was the strategy of many nineteenth century museums with natural history and ethnography collections — they often followed a putative evolutionary line in their sp atial organisation of exhibitions. It is also a strategy that is increasingly used in contemporary institutions with an overweaning intention to tell a single determinate story with artefacts and architecture.

It is perhaps a pity that more attention to possible narrative (mis)readings was not given by DCM to their Melbourne Museum design. An unintentional relationship between infancy and indigeneity could be inferred, for example, in location of the children’s museum at one end of the complex and the Aboriginal centre, Bunjilaka, at the other. The curvy elements in the ceilings, walls, and walkways of the latter seem to imply a banal correlation of aboriginality and “natural” forms.

But generally the fragmentation, dispersal, and almost random connections between the various exhibitions galleries that unfold off the main spine seem about right. It has also facilitated break-out spaces to combat museum-fatigue, not only in the distinct circulation areas, but also in pockets of outdoor space — balconies, enclosed gardens, roof terraces — that the architects have captured here and there.

The galleries are generally of two kinds. Some are large “black box” spaces. In these the exhibition experience is fundamentally determined not by the architecture but by contrived (and in my view patronising and overly didactic) installations of artefacts, display materials, and information. A set from “Neighbours” — found in the Australian gallery — is not worth seeing outside a soap opera milieu this museum is not equipped to present. The architects are blameless in such choices of what to show, Indeed the best things in the black box galleries are the beautifully crafted display cases designed by DCM to give some order within all the visual and aural chaos. Museums currently think people like this mess. But when I visited, many other visitors were enjoying the decontextualised and ordered things in Janet Laurence’s vitrines. Some of the galleries will offer this kind of experience on a grander scale. A lofty white space currently contains an exhibition of canoes from the Pacific with minimal interpretat ive clutter. Another similar gallery — for dinosaurs — will open soon.

The fragmentation of the galleries allows the museum to try different strategies for different kinds of audiences, and to revise one exhibition without revising them all. This is important when the agenda of such institutions, no longer self evident, is subject to ongoing change. In this regard, the most problematic of the exhibition volumes is the Forest Gallery, the legacy of a previous museum director with experience in wild-life sanctuaries It has anomalously installed a fragment of Vicotia’s “natural” environment under the blade roof right at the centre of the building. Its trees and pools will be populated with birds, fish snakes, insects. But DCM has even extracted some advantage out of this curiosity. Mesh walls and a steep blade outside the visitor’s angle of vision enable transparency to be extended right though the middle of the building from the glassy screens of the northern facade.

All of this is part of the neo-constructivist approach that DCM have become known for. Whatever we might think of this style, it is deployed in the design of the Melbourne Museum to make an instrument carefully honed to the site’s urban potential and to the contingencies that all museums currently face. It remains to be seen whether this instrument will be played as well as it deserves.

From Gray Skies to Sunshine

Smog, haze, heavy clouds, gray skies and stormy weather can kill an otherwise interesting photograph. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to change a boring picture with a nondescript background and turn it into a dramatic composition, digitally.

There are various ways that can be done with an image-editing program like Adobe Photoshop or Ulead PhotoImpact. The first step is generally image optimization. If there’s any shadow definition in the original image at all, the brightness/contrast adjustment can kick the brightness up to make the image look more dramatic, while contrast can be increased so that the shadows become better defined.

Optimization techniques work well enough as a starting point, but they’re generally not enough. Photo compositing–combining multiple images into one photograph–is frequently required. By replacing the sky, rather than just optimizing it, it’s possible to instill drama into the image that wasn’t there before.

That’s what was done with the series of shots of the adobe wall. The original shot was taken with an older digital camera, one that only had a one-megapixel resolution, The shot was actually taken on a pretty nice day in San Diego. The sun was out, and the sky was light blue. But the camera had a tendency to capture images a little flat and just slightly off color.

Fortunately, it didn’t take much computer work to optimize it. Just punching the contrast and brightness up made it considerably better. Adding a well-defined sky made it publishable, Replacing the blue sky with a blustery sky changed the overall mood of the picture. The version of the shot with a bright blue sky and billowing clouds is certainly more dramatic than the original. Any number of skies can be tried.

There are two ways to come up with usable skies. The first is to find a photograph of yours that has a good-looking sky in it. If it’s still in a print format, the shot has to be digitized. When working in Photoshop, once the image is in the computer, select the entire sky and copy it. Then open up a new image, which will automatically be the size of the clipped sky, and paste the sky into it.

Then select the sky in the original photo and inverse the selection. Selecting a washed out sky is usually easier than trying to select the various other elements in the photograph. Inversing the selection will define all the elements except for the sky. The defined area can be copied and pasted into the newly created image with the sky in it.

The other way of replacing the sky is by buying a CD with stock sky shots on it. There are all sorts of sky stock shots available on CD. While the selected sky shot doesn’t have to be the exact same size of the original image, it should be approximately the same size.

The stock shot would be opened first, and saved to a different file The part of the original composition is then pasted into the composition. The advantage to using a stock photo is that the sky will fit better into the final composition, since it covers the entire frame, The disadvantage is that stock shots cost money.

Photographers just starting out with photo composition frequently lock themselves into techniques that they’ve been taught or those that had worked well for them in the past. But experimenting is part of the fun of creating photo compositions, and breaking the rules is part of experimentation. One way of experimenting is through playing with scale and image orientation.

Scale and image orientation can be used as creative elements in a composition, particularly when working with clouds. For example, it’s easy to get that forlorn effect that instills a certain “New Mexico reservation” feeling for the wall shot by reducing the size of the main object in the composition while keeping the dramatic sky large.

The main subject in the example photograph, the adobe wall, dominates the frame in the full-sized horizontal shot. It can be turned into a design element when its size is reduced and placed in a vertical composition. What used to be most important becomes secondary to the overall scene.

Obviously the vertical shot of the wall with the red clouds in the background wouldn’t be the same without the wall. But it wouldn’t be the same without the clouds either. Both elements in the composition are essential for the shot to work,

Sometimes, to make a shot work, a little extra manipulation is required. For example, in order for the wall to work so small in the composition, it had to be extended across the bottom of the frame. Neither of the wall extensions at the sides of the main building were in the original composition. They were created in the computer.

Opening up background space with clouds not only changes the overall composition, but it also makes it possible to add text or other graphic elements to a composition. Once completed, photo-composites can be used for newsletter covers, advertisements or other material to be published.

The Best of Both Worlds. Tips for film scanning.

The bridge between traditional film photography and the digital world is the film scanner. This technological marvel has changed the way photographers capture moments in time. We arc now able to take images that we have recorded on film and transfer them into digital data that can be read by any computer. Once this data is in the computer, we can use photo software tools to enhance the image, correct its errors and ultimately output the final image, all in the comfort of our homes.

To achieve the best results, you must understand how to get a good scan and then analyze which films work best. Scanning photos is still quite new to most photographers, so it is understandable that many of the scans we see are done poorly or are often totally unacceptable. Let’s take a look at the different variables in making a good scan.

You can use both slide film and negative film in your film scanner. Some scanners even have an attachment that allows you to scan your APS film. Scanners have different sets of internal specifications for scanning the various slide and negative films. Each color negative film has a different color balance when printed on traditional color paper, so it is not surprising that the same thing happens when the films are scanned.

Fortunately many of the new films belong to film families, so the color balance for each group usually can be used for all members of the film family.

Most film scanners on the market today include settings for the most popular film types that will get you close in color. You don’t have to have a perfect color balance at this point, because you can make all your final color corrections using your photo-editing software program.

Color slide film is normally the traditional photographer’s final product. Slides produce a positive image that can easily be analyzed to determine if you have achieved a good exposure or correct color balance. There is little doubt as to the colors you recorded in your images when you can directly view them on a light box or with a slide projector.

When you place a color slide into a film scanner, use the positive setup for the scanner and you should be really close on the first pre-scan. The only exceptions are Kodak Kodachrome films. These films use a different type of final coating and will usually turn blue on the first pre-scan. Once you tweak your settings to achieve a balance, be sure to save them out as a special slide setting. Next time you need to scan a Kodachrome transparency, just select that setting and your color balance should be close.

The down side to scanning color slides is that their density ranges from very dense black to very clear white. For the scanner to capture the full range of the color slide, you must insure that you are in the middle of the slide’s exposure range before you scan it. With most slide scanners, the default setting will lose some shadow detail in the original slide. Not to worry because this can be overcome by using the gamma control setting in the scanner. Increase the gamma value until the preview image is closer in value to the original scene.

Slides also tend to lose a little bit of image resolution during the scanning process. Although scanners do have sharpening controls to counteract this loss, we recommend using the more sophisticated sharpness control found in your photo-editing programs.

Color negative film is not the final image and must go an additional step to create a final print on paper. The colors you see on the negatives are inverted and muted by an orange mask. It is very difficult for even the most advanced photographer to determine just by looking at a processed color negative if correct color balance and exposure have been achieved. Usually the next step-printing–is necessary to make that determination. This lack of color reference is why it is difficult to determine correct color balance on scanned color negatives.

Color negative film has a much greater exposure range than color slide film. This makes it easier for the film scanner to capture a density range that provides smoother color gradations. The down side is that color negative film has larger grain than slide film, which becomes more pronounced as it goes through the digital process. This is especially true if you use the sharpening tools in your editing software. The key is to use films with low ISO ratings and finer grain.

You can reduce the grain in any scanned image using the smart blur, despeckle, or dust and scratch filter in your editing software. You may find that photos taken with a long lens or even a macro lens will have a grainy out-of-focus background. Using one of the various select tools in the editing program you can select the background and blur the grain until it almost gone. Then you can go back and re-sharpen the image. Be sure you don’t overuse this effect, or your background editing will be very apparent.

You can remove dust and scratches from your scanned images using photo editing software. You should gently brush or blow of all the dust from your original images before you scan them into your computer to save editing time. Scratches must be removed in post production, which takes a bit more effort. Although many scanners have a dust and scratch filter that fixes both as you scan, we still recommend using the filters found in the high-end photo-editing programs instead.

Photographic scanners do have one Achilles heel. Most use a color-management system that will try to correct for exposure and color balance as each image is scanned. This system assumes that there is a black and a white somewhere in the image. When there is not, the scanner will often, make a very bad scan. The solution is to use the basic color settings for your selected type of film, but turn off the color-management system for that scan. Remember to turn the color-management system back on when you get back to images with a normal range of tones and colors.

Film manufacturers have all clamored to provide photographers with films that produce rich saturated colors. This is great when slides or traditional color prints are your final products. When you are planning to scan your film images, the lower the contrast and saturation level the better. Any and all saturation and contrast modifications can be achieved using the editing software. The lower or normal contrast films provide a much wider tonal range when scanned, allowing you to obtain maximum detail in the shadows and highlights.

Thanks to extensive emulsion research by all the film manufacturers, it is really tough to find any slide or color negative film that doesn’t perform. We now have so many choices with the variety of film speeds and films offering various saturation and contrast levels. Try as we may, it would be a tough call to pick a particular film box color, as they will all work well for scanning. We do recommend that the lower ISO films exhibit the finest grain, and color negative films provide the widest tonal range for scanning. As time goes on, we are all going to be continuing to merge traditional photography and digital. The film scanner is the tool that enables us all to take advantage of the best of both worlds.