American Elephants

This 47-Story Skyscraper in Alicante, Spain Has Some Surprising Problems by The Elephant's Child


This 47-story skyscraper under construction in Alicante, Spain has had its construction fraught with problems, including allegations of fraud from both customers and suppliers who are owed $3.3 million. The fact that it looks like a giant pair of pants is beside the point. The real problem — the really, really big one is that they forgot the elevator shafts. “In what will surely go down in history as one of the greatest architectural blunders, the building was almost completed when it realized that it had excluded plans for elevator shafts.” Great analogy for ObamaCare.

(h/t: Althouse)

The comments were a riot!

“On the other hand the advertising potential of this design is impressive. Haggar and Dockers are in a bidding war right now.”

“Can I show you something nice in a 40th floor walk-up?”

“On the subject of Spanish design flaws, their new, 2 Billion Euro submarine is 70 tons too heavy. If it submerged it wouldn’t be able to resurface.
Its named the Peral.”

“This is a great apartment if you ‘re into cardio.”

ADDENDUM: This story is turning out to be a hoax. The building is so dramatically ugly that it is easy to believe stories of major mistakes. The building, according to a Spanish blog, Barcepundit, does have elevators—11 of them: 3 in each tower plus 4 for the penthouses on top and a panoramic one on the outside. If you look really closely at the left tower, you will see an orange stripe which is the panoramic elevator.

Supposedly a bad translation from a confusing article in El Pais, a Spanish daily newspaper that only touched on the elevator issue tangentially. American TV crews are reportedly on the way to investigate. Der Spiegel reported on the story and had a building planned for only 20 stories, a late decision to make it significantly taller, with no freight elevator until the first 23 stories were constructed. When the freight elevator was finally installed, it collapsed, injuring 13 workers.

So what will happen when U.S. TV crews arrive? If it is a non-story and they have been hoaxed will they still report it? The town is apparently Benidorm, not Alicante, but is Alicante a province, a county? I have no idea how a story can get so fouled up. It seems to be a town with a magnificent long beach. The building towers over the rest of the town and is beyond ugly. I apologize for falling for a story without further checking, but further checking would not have been accurate anyway.

The White House, Gutted and Rebuilt From the Inside Out. by The Elephant's Child

During the Depression and the War years of the Roosevelt administration, the White House’s annual repair budget was neglected. When Harry Truman became president in 1945, he wanted to build an addition on the south side of the West Wing. Ground was broken and appropriations made by Congress, but Congress had second thoughts and recalled the funding. That irritated Mr. Truman, so he decided to build a balcony on the South Portico using money already allotted for White House maintenance. Usual flap, public objection, but the balcony was constructed according to plan.

Once they started poking around the construction of the White House, it was discovered that the main body of the mansion was structurally unsound. Floors no longer just creaked, they swayed. The president’s bathtub was sinking into the floor. A leg of Margaret’s piano broke through the floor in what is today the Private Dining Room. Engineers did a thorough assessment of the whole building, and found plaster in a corner of the East Room sagging as much as 18 inches. Wooden beams had been weakened by cutting and drilling for plumbing and wiring that the mansion did not have over 150 years, and the addition of the steel roof and full third floor in 1927 added weight the building could no longer handle. They declared the whole building on the verge of collapse.

Plans were discussed to demolish the building and build it in the same design, but Truman went to Congress and requested the funding to rebuild the White House from the inside out, leaving the stout brick outer walls, largely on the same plan as the original house— very much the way President James Madison had done after the British burned it in the War of 1812.

The old interior was dismantled, leaving the house as a shell with two modern wings. Some of the existing interior detail was saved, especially fireplace mantles. The mansion was then rebuilt, using concrete and steel beams in place of the original wooden posts.

During the reconstruction, Harry and Bess Truman moved to Blair House across the street. Blair House was a combination of two adjoining houses built by the prominent Blair family. It became the official guest residence for visiting dignitaries in 1942, as it is today.

The Telegraph, in Britain, just published a fascinating group of pictures of the White House being gutted and restored. The Trumans moved back in, in March of 1952.  Here is a link to the White House Museum for a tour of the Mansion, the only tour you will get in the present, as President Obama has shut down the tours, which have been conducted by volunteers, to erroneously claim that saving the money they didn’t pay the volunteers was necessary because of the dreaded sequester.  Enjoy your tour. You will see more on this virtual tour than you would in the White House anyway.

I Have a Squirrel Problem! by The Elephant's Child


Squirrels are, unfortunately, smart. My problem, although not quite the one pictured, is also one of bird-feeders.  I progressed down the normal path with a standard bird feeder, then added a cage with openings supposedly only open to songbirds, and a plexiglass dome to keep the little beasties out from the top. That worked for a while, but they figured out how to tip it over and spill most of the birdseed on the ground.

I found a new one that operates on springs, and a squirrel’s weight would pull lids down over the openings to the seeds. And Wild Birds has a new caged version that I have my eye on when they get a new shipment in. The current problem is not birdseed, but the suet war.

The suet feeder has a stout metal grill on each side, and the suet cake slides between. The exterior has channels into which the grills slide (and are fixed), and the bottom extends with a tail-prop panel for woodpeckers. We have lots of Red-Shafted Flickers, an occasional Downy Woodpecker and every so often a big Pileated Woodpecker will drop by. They are the big Woody-Woodpecker kind, 15″ long, and woodpeckers need tail-props.

The suet feeders are made of recycled plastic (a mistake) that holds the grill that holds the suet cake. The squirrels gradually discovered that if they chewed away the plastic at the corners of the grill enough, the grill would fall out, and the seed cake would fall on the ground where they could make a piggy banquet of it. (You will notice my tone of irritation). I am not without defenses. The spray hose on my sink is a powerful one and if I can get the window over the sink open fast enough, the squirrels get a shower that they do not like at all. HaH! My son calls me the “Crazy Lady.” He doesn’t know that I have been shopping for a high volume water water machine gun. I wired the grills back together in a patch job, but they defeated that as well. So — back to Wild Birds. Overcome by the attractiveness of a nice green one, I foolishly opted for buying the same kind I’d had previously which had actually lasted for a long time before they figured out how to defeat it.

Silly me! It took them TWO DAYS to defeat the new one. I said they’re smart. They had learned how it was done, and retain the knowledge.  It was no accident!

At one time, my office at work faced a huge big-leaf maple tree, with a long horizontal branch some 12-15 feet off the ground from which the gardeners had suspended a bird feeder on a strong cord on a pulley, so the feeder could be lowered  for refilling.  The squirrels would run along the branch, shinny down the cord and hang upside down with their noses in the openings of the feeder. One squirrel, however, sat aside, stationary, just looking at the feeder for the longest time. I got interested, just watching him. Eventually he stirred, went over to the feeder and chewed carefully through the cord. The feeder fell to the ground and spilled all its seed for a squirrel banquet. That’s when I learned that squirrels are smart.

The answer seems to be a wood version, which we then up-armor with thin sheets of copper or tin. If you know of a better solution, all suggestions are welcome. I will not be defeated by a tree rat! The Suet Wars continue unabated.

The Skagit River Bridge (temporary) Reopens Tomorrow. by The Elephant's Child


Governor Jay Inslee has announced that a temporary bridge to replace the collapsed Skagit River Bridge will open tomorrow. This is on I-5 between Seattle and Vancouver B.C. and has slowed traffic with a detour since May 24. A temporary bridge in place with slightly reduced speed limits in just 24 days is not bad.

The Media, always hotly in pursuit of a dramatic story, made a great deal out of the collapse, which was due to a truck with an extra wide load striking a major bridge support, rather than President Obama’s  favorite “crumbling roads and bridges” didn’t measure up in the drama department.

Traffic can once again move smoothly, and end the backups on the bridge detour. Good job.

The Magic of the Paper City by The Elephant's Child

Here is paper folding and pop-up paper gone wild. Beautiful and magical.

Europe Under Water: Record Floods by The Elephant's Child

Czech Republic Europe Floods

While Americans are absorbed in the tornadoes in the Middle West, the people of central Europe are coping with record flooding. Record rainfall during the past week has led to flooding and landslides across the Czech Republic and portions of Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. In some places, as much rain fell in two days as would normally fall in a two-month period. The flooding has claimed ten victims and thousands of people have been displaced — some 8,000 in the Czech Republic alone. Painful reminders of the force of nature.

Der Spiegel has a gallery of photos of the flooding, which are quite amazing.


This is the city of Passau in Germany. It just looks unreal.The top photo is the Vltava River and the suburbs of Prague. That’s going to be a lot of misery and a lot of digging out. The people of Central Europe  have our thoughts and prayers.

First You Need A Few Balloons… by The Elephant's Child

Here’s a time-lapse video of how a 20-foot acrocanthosaurus is made. The Airigami team assembled the dinosaur and its ecosystem, including plants and some crawly insects at the Virginia Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Ancient Life. It took them four days, but it looks like they didn’t have to blow up the balloons, at least not there.

That is without question the best balloon accomplishment I’ve ever seen.

Beach Creatures: Theo Jansen and his Strandbeests by The Elephant's Child

Theo Jansen makes wind-fueled kinetic sculptures specifically for walking and “surviving”on the beaches of Holland. He calls them Strandbeests and they are extraordinary. His 2007 TED talk explains in more detail how “the animals” move and survive. You can find more videos on Vimeo.


A Beautiful Interview With Irving Harper, Industrial Designer by The Elephant's Child
April 4, 2013, 6:57 am
Filed under: Architecture, Art, Freedom, Heartwarming | Tags: , ,

Paper doesn’t require any special equipment—“All you have to do is sit down, cut paper out, and score it, bend it, and glue it.”

A beautiful Herman Miller interview with designer (and paper engineer/artist/sculptor) Irving Harper. As design director for the Nelson Office in the 1950s and ’60s, he created and collaborated on iconic furniture, products and textiles in midcentury design.

While working on the Chrysler Pavilion for the 1964 New York World’s Fair, he began making sculptures in his off hours to relieve stress. Some 50 years and roughly 500 pieces later, almost every surface of his Rye, New York home is besieged by evidence of his remarkable skill and creativity.

Irving Harper’s book, Irving Harper: Works in Paper, chronicles his intricate sculptures of paper, toothpicks and other household items.
( h/t:

Roentgen Furniture: The Berlin Secretary Cabinet by The Elephant's Child

The Berlin Secretary Cabinet is just one of the extraordinary pieces that was part of a recent show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It ran from October until the end of January.

The workshop of Abraham Roentgen (1711-1793) and his son David (1743-1807) blazed across eighteenth century continental Europe. Their innovative designs were combined with ingenious mechanical devices that revolutionized  traditional French and English furniture types. Their customers were the royalty and aristocracy. Beautifully inlaid, stunning marquetry, with hidden drawers and surprising unfoldings, concealed writing surfaces, easels, candle stands and clocks.

The video of the secretary cabinet, above,  is amazing, and best viewed in full screen to grasp all the intricacies of their work. Other pieces can be seen at this link from the Museum. There are videos of many of the pieces. Don’t miss the automaton of Marie Antoinette playing the dulcimer.

Back in the real world, I have trouble finding what I want in my ordinary desk. No marquetry, no hidden drawers, no musical clock. Just a desktop computer, a keyboard, a lamp, and two cat baskets. Fortunately, in the 18th century they weren’t asking ‘where did I put my car keys,’ and ‘what did I do with the stamps?’ I wonder what they did do with all those drawers?


In the Bleak Midwinter… by The Elephant's Child

The Strange Beauty of Planned Cities Seen From Space by The Elephant's Child


Wired features a fascinating series of pictures of planned cities seen from space. A planned city is laid out all at once and built from scratch. They are designed with a definite purpose, to formalize a capitol city, to maximize green space, or just to organize people into their proper places. Some were designed as a compromise between two cities vying to be their country’s capitol. Some are built to keep workers near a nuclear plant or a copper mine in the middle of nowhere. Some are designed to be a kind of Utopia—with public gardens, promenades, throughways and harmony— to improve on what city design has been before or what other cities have grown to become.

City planning is not just contemporary, planned cities can be found throughout history. The pictures from space are beautiful, and somehow haunting. Imagine the architects or planners seeing their original plans and drawings newly visualized in reality—what was once only a dream.  See all ten here.

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