If you not going to holiday for the entire month of August on a Greek island then the policy at CERN is that you must sweat until you change your mind. Building 40, where the ATLAS and CMS experimental offices center, has a beauty of a glass dome that turns to beast for 30 minutes every day as you are revealed, Indian Jones style, as the site of the lost ark. Fusion powered theatrical lighting is what we are talking about, in your face. And, the architectural trajectory is not a positive one: a new building, 42, adjoining and expanding on the offices of 40 deals with the heat like sawdust deals with vomit, soaking it up and becoming 100 times as gross.
Building 42 wedges itself on a hillside at the perimeter of CERN, gazing off toward incredible views of a horse training field and vineyards. Its brilliance is the wall of southwest facing windows that soak up the 1000 W/m^2 of bone softening heat from the afternoon sun. This is a good plan in the winter, but the light bulb above your head wilts to a blob of silica and tungsten in the summer. We physicists put our money into high field gradient RF cavities, not air conditioning (at least in these parts). Those shades you see in the photo above operate automatically to prevent the building from technically killing anyone. But, when you are trying not to let your sweat short out your stock Dell keyboard which leaves black spots all over your desk from it’s molten rubber feet, are you really living?
Oh, and look, in the hall is our savior, the water cooler. (A substantial breeze of hot air expanding out into the hallway almost blows you here.) You are going to need at least a few glasses an hour to keep the salts in your blood from crystallizing as the afternoon heats up. But glasses you say? What is that? Such things don’t exist in this part of the world. The spring-loaded cup dispensers on every last one of these gray spigots are fully sprung. The are effectively upside-down water fountains.
Also, don’t even think about getting your own glass from the cafeteria, “IT IS STRICTLY FORBIDDEN TO REMOVE CROCKERY, GLASSES OR CUTLERIES FROM THE RESTAURANT AREA.” OK, I’ll admit disposable cups are also available, but a 10 minute round trip just to acquire a disposable cup just doesn’t feel right.
Anyway, the heat is tappering off for the moment. Let’s hope the transition to mild autumn weather is a long and lingering one.
I’m here today to talk about flooring. The kind people walk on. I’ve seen a lot of floors in my time, from the linoleum tile my dear old mother installed all by herself in our humble kitchen when I was a wee lad, all the way to the 2000-year old tile floor in the Vatican Museum that supports millions of visiting feet per year with nary a scratch … after being transported thousands of miles by slaves and horses, that is! I’ve walked on a lot of floors throughout the entire world, and I can say with absolute honesty that every single one of ‘em has succeeded in supporting my weight; that every last one of ‘em has remained flat and avoided caving in under my feet, thanks to the laws of gravity, strong building materials, and good workmanship. Because I say that the only thing you would ever ask a floor to do is, well, nothing at all! You would ask that floor to stay flat and motionless, and to bear your weight across it, repeatedly, for years on end. You would never ask that floor to cave in under your feet; to crumble pathetically under the weight of a hundred kilo or so; to turn to rubble in the course of nominal daily usage. That’s why floor-makers get paid; I’ll go so far as to venture that’s the only reason they get paid. I claim that the only thing required of a floor is not to cave in. Well, if you’re in agreement with that statement, then you’ll agree that the upper floor of CERN’s Restaurant 2 has utterly, abjectly failed in its incredibly simple mission. This is truly the first floor I have ever encountered that has been unable to bear the strain of human feet, and the failure of it and its builders fills me with a deep-seated disgust and enduring concern.
Much has been made of the lofty scientific forays undertaken at CERN, and the lives of the people who embark on these adventures of fundamental research and discovery. But do not the spaces these scientists inhabit deserve their equal measure of fame? After all, it is the roofs of CERN that protect us from the elements, the walls of CERN that hide our secret ambitions from the malicious eyes of our competitors, the soaring atria of CERN that inspire our creativity, and the very bricks and mortar of CERN that greet our eyes, day after day after motherfucking day.
In a word, it is the architecture of CERN that shall be unveiled and adored today. And what better candidate than building 553.
This timeless structure was specially commissioned by the Director General’s office and designed by the firm Merde Bâtiments. We are reminded that while in principle every type of material has its proper place and function, there is still room for an element of surprise and playfulness. Shingles need not only sit atop roofs; corrugated fiberglass is allowed to keep the rain off our heads; peeling paint is paint with character, and gray is, quite simply, beautiful. Take a deep breath and let us take you on a virtual tour of building 553.
Speaking of water tower mysteries. What the Fermilab is this picture about?
This comes from the CERN document server which is a whole world of mysteries unto itself. There is almost no context for this image, a visual non sequitur. It gets the handy keywords ‘generalities’, ‘landscape’, and ‘nature’. From the title, View of the CERN by the water tower (Calendar 2002), it seems to be for a calendar. Really? There aren’t any cute kittens or scientists willing to pose naked? When in doubt you at least can’t go wrong with 12 months of beautiful landscapes; couldn’t the photographer have held out for a view of Mt. Blanc in the background? (It’s behind that haze.) I guess not.
I found six images on the document server for this “Calendar 2002.” There are a couple photos from the dismantling of LEP and another couple of the fire brigade in action. Good hearty CERN fare. But, finally, there is also a very creepy image of a sheep. I say creepy because, though I think the sheep has just been sheared, at first glance it looks dead or prepared for slaughter. Brilliant:
CERN, it’s where scientists do mysterious things with particles and sheep go to die.
Dearest CERN Lovers,
Today I would like to share a few mysteries surrounding the CERN water tower that have confounded me for years, as well as partial explanations I’ve heard that sound plausible but may or may not be true. I am a seeker, always striving to know and to comprehend, so if you have heard other explanations, I invite you to share them.
- Why did CERN originally build a water tower?
An Explanation: to cool one of the experiments (heard this from a well-known physicist).
- What is it used for today?
An Explanation: drinking water
- Why was it painted yellow?
An Explanation: Because a bright yellow eyesore is better than a concrete-colored eyesore.
- Why was it only partially painted yellow?
An Explanation: an Italian firm was taking so long to paint it and increasing their price as they went that CERN management got fed up and called it off before it was finished (heard this from a crazy person).
- Why does a water tower need a viewing room at the top surrounded by windows?
No known explanation
Any help you can offer to resolve these mysteries would be much appreciated!