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Architect at Work

Join us at:
Enercare Centre, Hall D
100 Princes’ Blvd. Toronto
April 3–4, 11:00 am – 7:00 pm
Visit our booth, and join The Right Angle Journal Editor Gordon Grice in the Seminar Room, at 11:00 am, on April 3, where he will be sharing his views on “The Architecture of Discomfort.”
We should all be grateful to architects and designers for making our environment more comfortable and convenient. That’s their job, after all. But what about when they create things that are uncomfortable and downright inconvenient? Sometimes they should be thanked for that too.

For more information on Architect@Work

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AIP 34

Stay tuned for news about:
AIP 34 – The 34th annual jury of the American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI)
Hollywood, CA,
March 29
Go to:
The Right Angle Journal Editor will be in attendance to take notes on the state of architectural illustration in 2019.

OAA Annual Conference 2019

Make sure you reserve your place at:
The OAA Annual Conference:  “Empowering Change”
Quebec City Convention Centre & Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
Quebec City, PQ
Sign up early for a presentation of “Architectural Writing: Communication by Design,”
Wednesday, May 22, 2019, 2:00 PM – 5:30 PM
Writing should be fun. You get to put your ideas on paper or on a screen, admire them and play around with them until they take on a personality of their own. It’s a lot like designing. But far too often, anxiety and uncertainty dampen your enthusiasm, and writing has the enjoyment squeezed right out of it.
If you’re an architect, help is at hand. You already have the creative abilities and the tools to be a good (even a great) writer – and to enjoy writing. All you have to do is learn to approach writing as a design problem.

Writing About the Built Environment

“Architects are terrible writers.”
a well-known and highly respected architectural editor

A lot of people believe that architects can’t write: the general public, architects themselves and, obviously, architectural editors who rely on architects for raw copy. We have to assume that the editors are the geniuses and not the writers, since there must be so much work involved in making architectural writing readable.
But for more than 20 years, the OAA journal Perspectives provided convincing evidence that architects – lightly edited – are actually really good writers. The catch is that they need to have something interesting to write about.
The Right Angle Journal picks up where Perspectives left off. We have broadened the field of contributors to include artists, designers and everyone with a passion for the built environment, but the instructions are the same: write about things that interest you, from a personal point of view. We like to see fiction, nonfiction and creative nonfiction – expository, descriptive or persuasive, and especially narrative. Everyone likes stories. If you have something in mind that you want to explore on the printed page, let us know. We can offer advice, encouragement, editing as required and, of course, a deadline, so you actually get it done.
Writing should be fun. You get to put your ideas on paper or on a screen, admire them and play around with them until they take on a personality of their own. It’s a lot like designing. But there are times when anxiety and uncertainty dampen your enthusiasm, and writing has the enjoyment squeezed right out of it.
Most architects and designers have had zero training in writing, yet our professional duties often require us to write anyway. For most of us this means getting the writing out of the way and resuming whatever productive task you were working on before the interruption. It’s time to inject some joy back into writing, even when you have other things to do, the subject is boring and the deadline was yesterday.
The method is simple enough. Writing is a design exercise, and you already know how to design. All you need to do is learn how to transfer your design skills into written language, and you are pretty much there.
This plan may not make you an exceptional writer – that part is up to you – but it will help to make writing a little more natural and enjoyable by removing some of the barriers. It will at least help you to be a good writer, and may set you on a course toward becoming a modern Thomas Hardy.
The Right Angle Journal will be offering a “Releasing Your Inner Writer” seminar at the OAA Annual Conference in Quebec City, on May 22, in Quebec City. If you can’t make the seminar, don’t despair, we will be presenting the material as an online course later in the year. Watch this space.
Gordon S. Grice
Editor, The Right Angle Journal
[IMAGE: Thomas Hardy (1840–1928), architect, novelist and poet
Sketch by William Strang, ca. 1910, Wikimedia Commons]

The Tropicana Club – Havana

For tourists, Cuba presents something of conundrum. On the one hand, it is a warm and inviting vacation spot with sunny beaches and an amiable population. On the other hand, it is a Marxist-Leninist, one-party state, that grants very little economic freedom to its people. How should travelers feel about enjoying a restaurant meal that would cost a typical Cuban family the equivalent of one or two months’ income?
In the context of modern Cuba, The Tropicana nightclub in Havana is a striking anomaly. Its building and grounds are a surviving relic of Cuba’s colonial past. Its extravagant excess is a jarring reminder of the country’s pre-revolutionary gangster era. Its slick packaging of Cuba’s most notable exports (music, dance, rum and cigars) into one entertainment experience serves as a glittering example of modern Cuba’s aspirations as a global tourist destination – past, present and future all rolled into one, while Marx and Lenin roll in their graves to an Afro-Cuban beat.
The Club opened on December 30, 1939, on the grounds of the colonial estate Villa Mina, as the brainchild of Cuban impresario Victor de Correa and two casino operators, Rafael Mascaro and Luis Bular. The name change to Tropicana was suggested by choreographer and stage director Sergio Orta. With the support of wealthy patrons, the Club flourished through the war years, and by the end of WWII, it had evolved into a showy meeting place, beyond the budget of most Cubans, but also beyond the reach of American law enforcement, making it an ideal place for criminals and politicians to freely conspire.
We are told that the Cuban Revolution wasn’t just a struggle between Marxism and Capitalism; it was equally a struggle between the Cuban people and organized crime. At the core of this struggle was Fulgencio Batista, Cuba’s infamous dictator, who allowed the mob free rein in Cuba, as long as he remained on their payroll.
Both gangsters and celebrities were amply represented in pre-revolutionary Havana. The well-heeled clientele of the Tropicana included mobsters like Meyer Lansky and Santo Trafficante, rubbing shoulders with notables like Marlon Brando, JFK and, of course, Ernest Hemingway. If you were able to ignore – or possibly delight in – the club’s opulent sleaziness, you would have appreciated the Cabaret Quarterly report of 1956, calling the Tropicana
the largest and most beautiful night club in the world. … Tropicana has ample room for two complete sets of stages, table areas and dance floors, in addition to well-tended grounds extending beyond the night club proper. Tall trees rising over the tables and through the roof in some spots lend the proper tropical atmosphere.
– Wiki, quoting Cabaret Quarterly, Special Resort Number, Volume Five, (poss 1956), p56
Sixty years later, this is still an accurate description of the club. But getting back to reality, by the time the above review was published, the Cuban Revolution was already underway. tells us that
“As early as December 31, 1956 [perhaps shortly after the review was written], a bomb exploded at The Tropicana. Set by communist rebels, the explosion was contained to the bar area and one woman lost an arm.”
The Tropicana has been entertaining visitors in much the same way and in the same location, for almost 80 years, while all around it, everything was changing radically. It might even be said that, while the world didn’t change the Tropicana, the Tropicana may have changed the world. The characteristic live shows – extravagant mixtures of Folies Bergères and carnival parades – have served as the prototype for productions that we now associate with New York and Las Vegas.
The three of us, my wife, my younger daughter and I, had gone to the Tropicana two yeas ago, to inject a little authentic Cuban flavour into our all-inclusive seven-day resort vacation. My only previous point of reference was the fictional Copacabana nightclub that was Ricky Ricardo’s workplace in the I Love Lucy show – a fairly lame, low-budget example of what passed as Cuban culture on American TV during the 1950s. I wasn’t remotely prepared for the Spectacle that I was about to experience.
…I’m using “spectacle” to mean an event loaded with magical possibilities, one that inspires awe.
… a viewer becomes a participant with all of his or her senses engaged.
— David Rockwell, Spectacle. New York: Phaidon Press, 2006
The word “spectacle” barely hints at the choreographed explosion of costume, music, dance, colour, lights and stage sets that make up the Tropicana show. An enormous cast (up to 100) dance onstage, above the stage, beside the stage, on stairways leading to the stage, and on a three-tiered cascade on one side of the stage that changes colours, seasons and patterns throughout the show. Any additional dancers gyrate in the aisles and on balconies above the audience. The extravaganza takes place under the stars, with illuminated trees forming the backdrop to the main stage, providing the atmosphere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Caribbean colour.
The real stars of the show are the costumes, which feature metre-high head pieces that in most cases limit the choreography to swaying and careful grinding, since anything more athletic would send the dancers toppling. Some of the performers who were not wearing hats did acrobatic feats. There was an orchestra onstage, and singing – traditional, pop and operatic.
And then, there is the rum. For our visit, A bottle of five-year-old Havana Club formed a centrepiece for every table of four guests. Since our group contained only two drinkers, my personal ration was a half-litre. I left some in the bottle.
In addition to the music, the rum, the colour and constant rhythmic movement, the other distinctive feature is the aroma of expensive cigars. There are very few entertainment places in North America where cigar smoking – or any smoking – is tolerated. But it has occurred to me the smell of really fine cigars and the sound of Latin music form the essence of Havana.
If you are averse to either of those, it would be best to avoid the city and stay at your all-inclusive resort. If instead, you decide to explore Havana, you will find that from almost every restaurant or bar, there comes the faint, sweet smell of cigar smoke and live music. The music may fade as you stroll, but it returns as soon as you round the next corner.
Many spectacles rely for their impact on the fact that they are alien to, and divorced from, their surroundings. It’s not just the extravagance of a spectacle that sets it apart; it’s also the extreme contrast between the spectacle and real life. At a rock concert, for example, one minute, you’re sitting in a drab sports arena, in the next instant, the house lights go out and you are at the centre of a supernova. As a spectator, you are pulled into a new space and frame of mind, devoid of any familiar context.
This is where the Tropicana experience is unique. Yes, it is entirely separate from the faded Cuban architectural landscape, and the simplicity of daily Cuban life; however, it represents and epitomizes the soul of Havana – its history, its aspirations for the future and it’s pulsing multi-sensory present. It’s startlingly different from its context, but at the same time it is an intense expression of it. When you experience the Tropicana, you learn new ways of appreciating the city, the country, and its people – ways that you might not previously have imagined.
If you’re looking for a sunny beach holiday, take your choice from among the islands of the Caribbean. There are lots of them. If you’re looking for a cultural onslaught and an experience you’ll never forget, the Tropicana is by far your best bet.


Spring 2019 Issue of The Journal

We explore the meaning of home. It’s a powerful word, but one with a surprisingly pliable meaning.


Next in The Journal

Vol. 2, No. 4 – FALL 2019
An examination of drawing as a narrative, drawing as a record of experiences and drawing as a means of discovery

Vol. 3, No. 1 – WINTER 2019/20
Highlighting the changing definitions of “authenticity” as it applies to architecture

Vol. 3, No. 2 – SPRING 2020
We look at the many uses of water as a building material, a plumbing necessity, an aesthetic device, and the source of countless insurance claims.

Upcoming Events

Hollywood, California
American Society of Architectural Illustrators (ASAI)
March 29

Enercare Centre, Hall D
April 3–4
11:00 am – 7:00 pm

Quebec City
Quebec City Convention Centre
& Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
May 22–25