I'll try some for a few days.
It is not the low speed which makes urban driving so maddening. It is the herky-jerky stop-and-go nature of urban traffic. The Modern Roundabout provides the opportunity for a low-speed but continuous flow.
What is a Modern Roundabout?See also RoundaboutsUSA
A Modern Roundabout is a type of circular intersection that has been successfully implemented in Europe and Australia, and more recently in the USA. Despite the tens of thousands of roundabouts in operation around the world, there are only a few in Canada. Until recently, roundabouts have been slow to gain support in this country. The lack of acceptance can generally be attributed to the negative experience with traffic circles or rotaries built in the earlier half of the twentieth century. Safety and operational problems caused these traffic circles to fall out of favor by the 1950's. However, substantial progress has been achieved in the subsequent design of circular intersections, and a Modern Roundabout should not be confused with the traffic circles of the past.
THE NEW CRITERION is an interesting and learned journal of a conservative bent. It writes encouragingly often and smoothly on the built environment, and I appreciate that. I have a sense that I would agree with its authors on specifics, if they ever got down to specifics.
Perhaps I am overly-enthusiastic for practical solutions, so I when I read an article such as Architecture & ideology by Roger Kimball, my reaction is to ask "And? Yes? What is to be done? How does this essay inform a local government writing a new comprehensive plan or zoning code? How does it help a developer build more urbanely?" Of course, it doesn't. It's engaging, to be sure; but where does one go with an insight such as:
There is a large retrospective, even autumnal, ingredient in the current celebration of work by Peter Eisenman and Leon Krier. We are invited to look back a couple of decades or more to explore the work of two energetic architects whose words and whose work helped set the agenda for important aspects of contemporary architectural theory and practice. It is, in all senses of the word, heady stuff, full of breath-taking ideas. Are they, for all that, good ideas? Well, I will leave you all to answer that question; or to leave it unanswered if that course seems more expedient. Leaving it unanswered, I suspect, is what Brendan Gill would have done, if for no other reason than that he wanted to keep the fun of architecture going as long as possible. Fun is nice. I like fun. But fun remains most fun when it keeps to its appropriate place. The ambition to transform all of life into a playground is a prescription for the ruin of fun. Brendan knew this, too, fortunately. I am convinced that he would have approved of my concluding quotation, from the nineteenth-century American historian William Hickling Prescott. "The surest test of the civilization of a people," Prescott wrote, "is to be found in their architecture, which presents so noble a field for the display of the grand and the beautiful; and which, at the same time, is so intimately connected with the essential comforts of life." It's a lot to live up to. But the alternative is having a lot to live down.It's fabulous stuff but it is so far removed from the daily issues that face a planning commission or city council in their decisions on physical development as to be comical. Does it offer any guidance except thunderingly abstract pieties? It is indeed the mirror image of what it detests the most: abstractions meant to guide the concrete.
Even when Kimball tries to get into specifics, he leaves one hanging:
The third admonition concerns what we might call the 'pudding test': architecture must be not only looked at but lived with, indeed lived in, and so what works marvelously on paper may fail utterly on the street. The proof of architecture is concrete, not abstract. Seductive theories do not necessarily produce gratifying buildings.And I happen to agree with him, very strongly in fact, (to the degree I can interpret his words and translate them into rules for the job site.) But if you substitute the term "architectural criticism" for "architecture" --- and that's a fair test, I think --- what do you get?
The third admonition concerns what we might call the 'pudding test': architectural criticism must be not only looked at but lived with, indeed lived in, and so what works marvelously on paper may fail utterly on the street. The proof of architectural criticism is concrete, not abstract. Seductive theories do not necessarily produce gratifying buildings.(italics added)Kimball is on the right track but he needs to follow his own advice --- get concrete --- before his criticism will have the punch it deserves to have.
Stumbled on this at Stumbling Tongue
Paris by Ear
Paris is the most beautiful city in the world.
Surely this is at least partly the work of the talented French elites who, one hears, are funneled into French government jobs, as smoothly and automatically as their American counterparts are funneled into business.
How else to explain an act as forward-looking as publishing a sound map of the city? Witness how the 1st arrondissement looks to the ear:
Reykjavik: Iceland's capital city has a decent bus network, as is expected in Scandinavia, with an interesting twist: On several seats on each bus, there is a popular paperback book attached by a cord to give passengers something to read on their daily commute. Of course, in a less law-abiding country I can't imagine the books lasting long, but it's not very costly and a brilliant effort if you ask me!"I'd prefer it if it was not the transit authority (as appears to be the case) which chose the book.
As if Zaha Hadid actually turned even a spade of dirt.
I never understood why "colorization" of old B&W films was assumed — and I think is under the law — a matter for the sole discretion of the director. (The analogy might be that no one could ever paint a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright a clor different than Wright had specified.) As if there was no one else involved in making a movie, such as maybe a cameraman or editor or maybe even a scriptwriter etc etc. Just like a movie, a building is above all a team effort. Oh I guess except if you are a genius, marketing or otherwise. Read yet another article on Ms. Hadid:
"Zaha looks at the screen, and notices some pictures hung on the wall behind the Ice Storm. Turning to another of her staff, Woody Yao, she wanted to know what this 'rubbish' was doing on the wall. Within seconds she was suggesting he should 'get on a flight' and remove them at once. As for any thought that she might be hard to contact, 'What do you think you have a mobile phone for?'
This was all pretty excruciating. I found myself looking at the carpet (pitch black, of course) and wondering how long it would be before Schumacher and Yao threw up their hands in horror and headed for the door. But it soon emerges that all this is completely normal. The point is confirmed by colleagues. Zaha may indeed rage and storm, but you can't make great buildings, let alone the 'new architecture' that is increasingly claimed for Hadid, out of nice smiles and polite consensus."
Oh, the old "genius" excuse for poor manners. Here applied to the "architect auteur." Hadid is now the "architect du jour." How these fashions come and go. Mind you, I think I even like this Hadid design of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati. But to speak of its designer as some cartoon out of an Ayn Rand novel is curious.
I'm wondering if the fascination with star architecture is simply because the public, and even some architecture critics, simply don't know what to say about buildings. I wonder how many of them have experience (besides as a user, and not to diminish that) in building them. Any role would do to add unique insight: architect, structural engineer, land use attorney, municipal zoning official, etc. etc. Maybe even general contractor.
I remember reading a Paul Goldberger piece in which he spent half the article describing who "went to school" with whom and who was wearing what color shirt (and tie) before he got to the building itself. It was as much People gossip as serious crit. But maybe that's what the readers want because it is too difficult to comprehend a building. Of course that's what critics are supposed to do: help their readers to comprehend. So, too, The Guardian desn't overlook the obligatory clothing review:
Clad in a great swirl of black designer wear, she's wearing a ring you probably couldn't board a plane with nowadays and seriously high-heeled shoes, secured, as the Cincinnati Enquirer duly notes on its front page, with "lime green Day-Glo straps".
Vulgar as it may be to actually say it in public, and except for the unusual circumstance in which there is no required parking (definitely rare in North America) urban design starts with parking. You may not want to believe it, but that is the cold hard reality.
I was chatting with an architect. We were discussing a small condominium project. Very large buildings came up. I happened to ask him if he had worked on one.
"Yes when I a young associate at a big firm."
"Oh, they must be exceedingly difficult to design."
"No not really."
"No it's true. For one thing most of the work is done by the structural engineer and contractor who lay out the basic grid. The architect's fundamental job is getting the cars onto and off the site. You can route people up ramps and stairs and so forth. But cars are much more difficult. There are consideration of grades and transitions and turning radii. The real design turns on parking."
"No, look at it with this project, here. What's the very first thing we did? Long before we even started to look at the apartment layouts? We looked at how we would get cars onto and off the site...and how we could arrange the parking layout. Only then did we look at the building itself. Parking is the tail that wags the building."
I have been fascinated that no one ever hires a starchitect to design a parking garage as it is obvious that modern urbanism starts with parking:
"One of the stars of the downtown regeneration is, of all things, the New Street Parking Garage. The design for the garage, by Staunton-based Frazier Associates, came out of an inclusive team approach: the designers worked closely with government officials and local citizens (in a city known for its resistance to change) through an intensive public design process.Indeed, why not?
The result is a new landmark building at the entrance to downtown Staunton. In the past, architects designed beautiful buildings for visitors to arrive in, says design lead Kathy Frazier, AIA. Somehow that didn't get translated to parking garages, and people grew accustomed to parking in these ugly utilitarian buildings. The question we asked ourselves is "Why can't we make a parking garage beautiful and celebrate the arrival sequence like we used to with train stations?"
According to a report from the National Arts Journalism Program at the Columbia University School of Journalism on the architecture critiC (though I don't get the capital C at the end of critiC) here are the built environment's
Ten Most Influential Writers and TheoristsDefinitely more on this later.
Ada Louise Huxtable
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown
Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk
People are intrigued (nothing new) with large scale geographic changes:
"The Israel and Jordan governments are planning to link up the Dead sea to the Red sea. The main reason for this is because the dead sea is dying- water levels have dropped as much as 8 m below average levels. Also the two governments plan to desalinate water as well as use the pressure difference (the dead sea is also the lowest point on earth) to generate electricity (click here for a detailed description of the plan). The dead sea is itself an anomaly, and whenever i drive to the Arava Valley, i see traces of its presence everywhere. The surrounding area has such a bizarre landscape that it seems to belong only at the bottom of some water body. The Israeli Govt had a plan to connect the dead sea to the Meditteranean but the plan was dropped. I am most worried about the ecological impact. The salinity of the dead sea will decrease and there is no saying how it will affect the surrounding region. Maybe floating in the Dead Sea will be a thing of the past. Apart from that the canal will also probably affect the entire Arava valley unless they use pipelines.Read the book Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth. I read it as a graduate student in geography and it was mind-changing. I highly recommend it.
I am usually a bit apprehensive when people try to play with huge water bodies. In India currently there is a plan to link the Ganges in the north to the Kaveri in the south, but this is such a complicated project that the plan is revived for political reasons in times of drought. I hope they don't succeed in implementing this, linking rivers seems to be foolhardy at best and in the flood prone northern plains, it is just asking for trouble. Also in Russia , there seems to be revival in the plan to turn the Ob river from its bed and send the water towards the Asian republics. Again a plan that thrives on political considerations. Left to me, i would suggest modeling the entire scenario for say a hundred thousand years and then assess the plan. By which time, hopefully the leadership would have changed."
I dislike the term. It is one of the vapidisms of urban planning babble.
"Open space" is not "park" or "preserve" or anything of substance. It is the absence of something i.e. human buildings (and usually a real rasion d'etre as well.) It is the product of disliking buildings, or of allowing such awful buildings to be built that "nothing" is better than more of them.
Don't misunderstand. I love parks and preserves and "forests." I usually vote my tax dollars for them and I am all for putting as much of the North American continent as possible in a "lock box" until we can do a better job of building in already-developed areas.
It's just the language I find empty.
Of course there is good reason for it when the public is too cheap to authorize its government to simply pay for land for public use. "Open space" is a deliberately-vague term when used as a zoning requirement.
"No sir. We don't have any requirement to make some of your land into park. It's just an 'open space' dedication."
To be fair, such requirements usually do NOT also require that the public be allowed on the property...right now.
A friend asked me if every good urban building had to come up precisely to the property line i.e. the sidewalk, in accordance with the Three Rules. I can understand his concern.
The answer is "No."
Can there be any setbacks and small plazas here and there? "Absolutely yes."
The Three Rules outline a "default position." In legal terms (and since we assume the continued existence of zoning etc etc., that's not an inconsiderable consideration) Rule #1 ("build to the sidewalk") is a "rebuttable presumption." That means that the expectation is that a building will adhere to a consistent streetfront. But if the developer wants, for his own reasons, to set back from the property line to create a plaza, the legal burden will be on him to show that such a deviation from the default position will create a successful pedestrian environment.
Sounds legalistic and bureaucratic. And it is. No way around that. But it lays out a clear expectation of how a streetfront is to be built, makes permitting "as-of-right" under that condition, and reasonably places the effort on anyone who wishes to do something different. Doesn't mean you can't create an open space of some kind but you certainly don't get any bonus points and you actually have to demonstrate why and how it works to create a better streetfront.
The end result will be fewer huge plazas (most of which were created to satisfy a "bonus" program in which the developer was able to build a bigger building in exchange for providing the public with useless "open space") and thus a more traditional pedestrian environment.
Idealists make me somewhat nervous. I become especially nervous when it comes to city planning and when I read of someone's desire to "design a city from the ground up." Clean slate thinking can lead to awful things, if the actor is an evil genius. Or because the world is such a complex place, it can lead to frustration of the majority of us, the well-intentioned mediocrity. Only under despotic rule are societies able to make dramatic changes. To hope for dramatic change leaves one open to the lure of dictatorship.
I think a better way to look at city planning is by considering the narrative technique known as "in medias res."
In medias res is Latin for "into the middle of things." It usually describes a narrative that begins, not at the beginning of a story, but somewhere in the middle -- usually at some crucial point in the action. The term comes from the ancient Roman poet Horace, who advised the aspiring epic poet to go straight to the heart of the story instead of beginning at the beginning.and
(Latin "in the midst of things") In narrative technique, the recommended practice of beginning an epic or other fictional form by plunging into a crucial situation that is part of a related chain of events; the situation is an extension of previous events and will be developed in later action. The narrative then goes directly forward, and exposition of earlier events is supplied by flashbacks.City planning is done "in medias res." To accept that we are plunged into the middle of things, into a raging "urban narrative," moving (per Churchill) "full force irresistible," is a useful approach with cities. We do not have the "luxury" of building and designing whole cities from scratch on some systematic basis. Thank god. We'd better get used to it and work building-by-building, brick-by-brick. That's why I have always been rather put off by Burnham's urging to "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood." I would say just the opposite. Move by increments so as to avoid the demagogues and massive error. (Of course that does NOT mean that "no change is the best change." There is a happy medium with which wise Goldilocks would be happy.)
Of course building by increments is not as dramatic and exciting as starting from scratch. True. And I guess if you want urban excitement, there is always Brasilia.
Someone actually likes what Herbert Muschamp writes:
"No, the opinion of the common man controlling aesthetic design decisions of public moment just won't do. We need gifted specialists -- trained and qualified experts, the very best possible -- making all such decisions. And we need gifted specialists -- trained and qualified experts, the very best possible -- keeping tabs on those decision makers: encouraging, scolding, and goading them on from journalistically privileged critical positions, and offering as well trenchant, sharp-eyed, and informed public commentary in and for the public interest on their doings.I guess there is indeed absolutely no accounting for popular taste.
You know. Experts like Herbert Muschamp."
The idea behind congestion pricing is that you charge for the use of the road, at a rate constantly updated to keep traffic moving. No congestion = no toll; high congestion = high tolls. Those people willing to pay for the privilege of using the road under free-flow conditions during peak demand will get to use it, while those unwilling will take other routes, find other modes (the bus, carpools), or commute at other times.Murph has put his finger on one of the practical problems (besides privacy of course, for which there is always offered yet another technological fix): a congestion pricing system must be dynamically priced to adjust to changing demands.
"...at a rate constantly updated to keep traffic moving."
To my understanding, NO congestion pricing proposal even remotely contemplates such a structure. The mechanics are daunting. In fact the politics are daunting, too. Moreover so much of what we perceive as congestion is caused by "breakdowns" and beyond the reach of pricing. Better to have a fleet of helicopters standing by to lift broken vehicles out of the way.
FAILED ARCHITECTURE is from his archive.
"In all my years of working in the immediate vicinity of the World Trade Center, no one every said to me, Hey, lets go get a Sams falafel for lunch and go sit in the shadow of the World Trade Center. (I wonder if Sams is back on the corner of Broadway? At noon the frustration of the mile long line was eased by the free, deep-fried, discarded ends of pita bread. There was no better way to spend two dollars in all of New York City.) The plaza at the WTC was bleak, cold, windswept, and uncomfortably sloping towards the center fountain. In later years the management tried to enhance it with live music at lunch, but the sound bounced off the towers in strange ways and by the time it reached the ear of the listener it was distorted beyond all recognition. Now it was windswept, bleak, and noisy. They finally added a few tables and chairs off to one side, but only a few furtive smokers ever sat there.
No doubt the modernists and postmodernists will tell me that I just dont get it. Yamasakis minimalist sculpture was meant to be viewed from afar, approached through a tunnel into the basement, and appreciated from the inside up on the 110th floor. Dont you see, they will say, Yamasaki was a great architect, and if he wanted to make the plaza inviting, he would have. If he actually wanted to make the building function as a building, he would have made it clear where the entrance was. He was making a statement. He was re-imagining and re-interpreting. Call me old-fashioned, but being around a building should be a pleasant experience. If a building is surrounded with grounds or a plaza, then sitting there on a bench should be enjoyable. If it is not, then the building fails as architecture.
"I believe of the main things driving new architecture is the systematic use of computers in architectural practice. This is a really profound change that people in the profession are just starting to get the grip of. The computer can do elaborate structural calculations that are too complex to do by hand. They can simulate the daylighting and thermal performance of a building or create complex shapes and then manufacture them. Today these techniques are mostly being used to create self conciously arty buildings (see frank gehry), but the possibilites that computers open up are really crazy. For example, the Swiss Re building that Brian wrote about a couple months ago - the shape is probably designed by computer to minimize wind loads and allow controlled wind to enter the building for ventilation. The plan (i am sure) is designed to provide maximum daylight to each space. I'm not sure, but i would guess that the shape would be caluculated by computer to allow a big level of repition of the construction elements.Certainly the materials/computational revolution may have tremendous advantages for the architect/engineer. The idea of designing a building so that it ventilates itself by better computation of wind flows is a nice conceit -- "fresh air chasing away hot air". But we will absorb such changes with the same aplomb we adopt every other significant change i.e. "plus ca change etc..."
The possibilities are endless really. Buildings that are lighter and cheaper to build. Aerodynamic forms that reduce structural loads while at the same time acting to minimize or maximize heat gain depending on the outside temperature. Or deliver conditioned air to the user by virtue of it's shape. Advanced computer controlled glass skins that generate electrical power for the building while at the same time adjusting it's transparency according to occupant need. All these things are real and being built right now."
(What I mean by "plus ca change..." is simple and best answered by those at least 40: "Has your fundamental feeling of being alive been altered by your daily (I suspect if not more often) use of the personal computer?" For me the answer is not at all. Life is still a total mystery; the sense of wonder, awe and terror at life is as great (and maybe higher with age). Let's not confuse remarkable changes in our material situation with something which appears to be unchangeable: our sense of self.)
Will "materials/computational revolution" impact, in any essential way, the shape of our cities? I say 'No,' to the extent I understand it. (Gotta give myself an out when it comes to technology.) The "materials/computational revolution" is not even remotely as important as say, the computer in allowing distribution of organizational functions. And the computer has really had very little impact in decentralizing society; the major metropolitan areas everywhere on the globe are growing .
I don't see how a swoopy building like Gehry's "Experience Music Project" here in Seattle --- which could only have been built with rapid computers ---is anything but a yawn once one has seen it a few time. So it has lots of compound curves. That's nice.
"Jane Jacobs is one of those intellectuals who seem ever on the periphery of the libertarian movement. Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, can be found on the shelves of many a libertarian, though often unread. Perhaps this is because her name tends to be associated with leftish intellectuals who decry the rise of the suburbs and the decline of the downtowns, even though Jacobs strongly resists being labeled by any ideological movement, left, right, or other.Absolutely.
What is not commonly known, however, is that her works are full of arguments and insights on the economic nature of communities, on central planning, and on ethics that libertarians would find original and enlightening."
"Roger Boothe, the city's director of urban design, said Cambridge has seen some ''awful'' proposals for this site. He's pleased this plan would extend streets through the site, reconnecting it to the neighborhood.I'd sure like to know more about that parking arrangement.
He also praises the unusual parking strategy.
''Ken's idea --- to have subgrade parking egress outside the buildings, instead of straight from the garage to the office --- will enliven the streets,'' Boothe said."
UPDATE: Sorry about that. The link above "Beyond bricks" at the Boston Globe seems to be a "dynamic" one and has disappeared.
The New Criterion's weblog ARMAVIRUMQUE can't resist a little nasty fun.
"In pursuit of their ideals, the mistakes that some of those bright young people made included armed robbery, widespread kidnap, assassination and random murder. By the time the army carried out its coup in 1976, over 3,000 people had been killed in the political violence unleashed by the young idealists. The dirty war, terrible and unforgivable as it was, did not arise by spontaneous generation."This gratuitous 'blame the victim' excuse for Argentine thuggery and criminality is beastly. Between the ignorant cant of The Nation and the pompous ignorance of The New Criterion I realize how empty I find the political wings. As to the built environment as well, to a large degree I find myself swimming between the Scylla and Charybdis of the so-called left and right, each of whose intellectual underpinning has as much solidity as those "Black" and "White" parties of Florentine politics, which themselves always reminded me of teams organized to play "steal the flag" at summer camp.
UPDATE: I probably should not have ascribed "ignorance" to The New Criterion. They are learned people there, indeed, which of course makes matters all the worse. The New Criterion is not the Fox Network and I expected grace and civility rather striving for "points." So perhaps, and this would have been better reflective of my initial disgust, the better term would have been "pompous callousness."
Expanding on earlier remarks here I'm going to use Libeskind's Spiral Extension as an example of how to handle the on-going political problem of: designing public and "institutional" buildings so that they contribute to a pedestrian-oriented city. The bottom line is simple: make even such an outrageous design as Libeskind's follow (as appropriate) the 3 Rules and thus contribute to street-life.
OK. To the building. You can't get much more shocking than the Spiral as a piece of urbanism, shown here as a Photoshop manipulation of the real street (the design is simply a proposal at this time):
It's Daniel Libeskind's Spiral Extension to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. My initial reaction to the image was shock and then a slow smile. It's so obviously designed to epater le bourgeoisie and it's funny. I suspect that as a New Urbanist I am supposed to dislike it. But I can't. I think it's drole, surprising. A lot of people in London don't like it at all and don't think it's funny.
A building like this, dramatic and with a "name" architect, is a "raisin" in a field of "oatmeal."
"Raisins" = "precious object" buildings. Very, very "special."
"Oatmeal" = ordinary "background" buildings."
It is not merely a "matter of taste" to suggest that too many raisins in a bowl of oatmeal and you no longer have a bowl of oatmeal. Too much of a good thing...etc. etc. The power of this design stems in large measure from its contrast with the context. A whole city of "Spirals" and it would lose its impact.
New Urbanist dogma suggests that the non-commercial town hall and major religious structures are "raisins" and should have both a distinct location and shape to allow them to be easily distinguished. Such buildings should have a claim on the "higher ground," symbolically speaking and perhaps literally . Because they are "special" they are exempt from having to meet the Three Rules.
Sounds reasonable except that in our society the list of potential "special" buildings expands rapidly. The hospital, the library, the "government center," the museum, the educational institution,the courts (both local, state and Federal), the fire station...The list of non-profit institutions which have a legitimate claim to a "precious object" design goes on and on. Each one can claim immunity from the Three Rules --- and tries to --- because it would like to show in 3-D that it is unique, special, not soiled by trade.
But with too many buildings which strive to be unique and stand out and express the profound spiritual and artistic sensibility of their artiste designer...well you have a problem. You have the raisins overpowering the oatmeal, you have the exception devouring the rule.
But the problem is not so much that precious object buildings have unusual forms. The problem is that this sort of building almost invariably turns away from the sidewalk as if to form a psychological moat. "KEEP AWAY! THIS WORK OF ART ONLY FOR THE EXCEEDINGLY REFINED!" It seems to be part of the psychology of such "precious" buildings.
So there we have a political problem and Libeskind walks right into it.
The Victoria and Albert is a Museum. A high-profile architect like Libeskind is hired to give an institution some visibility to aid in, among other things, fund-raising. It worked in Bilbao in spades. Many, many institutions and even private speculative builders recognize that a distinctive design is money in the bank. Such designs are indeed produced to attract attention though their designers try to gussy-up the proceedings with florid but meaningless "design theory" language.
Libeskind's Spiral, it seems to me, is designed to shock, to make one stop sharp. And it does so. Within limits, that's OK. A few distinctive "raisins" are fun to have around.
The ongoing and unavoidable political problem is that these non-commercial institutions have a lot of money, prestige and in fact often do good work. They are almost entirely and generally positive forces in a community. The only problem is that in general they don't know how to build. In order to further their institutional goals, they hire as "starry" an architect as they can afford. Such luminaries rarely seem (this is just empirical observation) to care about the sidewalk. And non-commercial managing boards and councils get snowed as members dream of their building on the cover of a glossy.
So it's inevitable that the system of star architecture will proceed; the public relations benefit is too great. But even within that context, such buildings would simply be politically shrewd to create a positive relationship to the street. Indeed there is no reason they can't . Hadid's museum in Cincinnati is a gawker yet it looks to be a good urban building.
The question which solves a great deal (but admittedly not all) of the political contention about these 'special buildings" would be How does the building meet the sidewalk? Does it activate the sidewalk? Does it follow (in an appropriate fashion) the Three Rules of Urban Design?
So too with the Spiral. The photo doesn't show what is happening at street-grade. It could be terrible or it could be fine. I think it regrettable that so many people misunderstand the core elements of what makes a good street and argue against designs like the Spiral for essentially the wrong reasons. One reason to attack the Spiral would be that its neighborhood has enough "special" buildings and the exception will soon sink the rule. Too many special buildings, isolated from the sidewalk as they typically are, and you have an office-park suburb of Anywhere.
The solution for Libeskind and designers of similar precious object buildings is to make the building a good urban building at the sidewalk i.e. make it enfront the sidewalk in the traditional fashion. That then gives the designer the political cover to do any weird and goofy thing that he likes and his client can afford.
So I am agnostic on the Spiral right now; it's impossible to tell from the image what is happening at sidewalk grade. It could be great; it could be awful. But that's where the action is. Thirty feet is just about the magic number, as this page from the forthcoming second edition of City Comforts shows:
Adhere to the Three Rules within 30 feet or so and do whatever you like elsewhere.
I've written to Libeskind's office to find out the state of the plans and to determine how his design works at the sidewalk. I hope it's good as the basic design is growing on me; the only issue is whether it is good urban building at the sidewalk.
So far they have been very cooperative. (Photo above courtesy of the V&A. Thanks!) I'll report back here when I know more.
Jim Kunstler sets the record straight on my prior post "Running out of oil":
As usual, you draw the wrong conclusion.
True, the oil depletion curve is a slope not a cliff.
BUT, the systems breakdown occurs relative to tipping points, which are, in fact, cliff-like.
As usual, Jim, we all look forward to learning the truth from you. But your conjecture about "tipping points" is simply a trendy assertion with not even the hint of a rationale.
At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait writes interestingly about The Modern Movement (but without ever defining it). But since he is discussing a BBC TV show "High Rise Dreams" prior knowledge is reasonably assumed.
"The truth is that if (even) more money had been made available than was, the devastation cause by the Modern Movement in architecture in Britain would have been even more devastating.See the BBC's page (referenced above) for more TV on buildings.
The Modern Movement was animated by numerous seriously bad ideas (and by just sufficient good ones to make all the bad ones catch on seriously). It which it would require an entire specialist blog to do full justice to all these errors. I'll end this post by alluding to just two such ideas, among dozens.
The Modern Movement is shot through with the idea that to put up an 'experimentally designed' block of flats and immediately to invite actual people to live in it is a clever rather than a deeply stupid thing to do. Experimental-equals-good is the equation they swallowed whole. This is rubbish. Many experiments are excellent, as experiments. But what they mostly tell you, the way his numerous failed lightbulbs told Thomas Edison, is what not to do. Imagine if Edison had gone straight to production with his first idea of what a lightbulb might be. That was sixties housing in Britain. No wonder so much of it had to be dynamited."
UPDATE from "Comments"
Modern Movement Architecture (which should be distinguished, I believe, from Modern Architecture, which is not all bad by any means) is not the only cause of trouble, but it is one of them, and you let it off far too lightly. This is not an either/or thing.
Armed Liberal gets at the essence of City Comforts (the book) and why I so detest star architecture, urban planning mega-projects and their various, mis-directing pretentions in his post here:
"Part of the philosophical change I'm going through is an appreciation of the pleasures of this kind of everyday life; in my own life it's a true gift to have learned that I can have as much fun sitting at Little League closing ceremonies chatting with my neighbors as I can have doing the other, higher-profile things I love.Maybe another way to sum it up is "Do you prefer Tolstoy? Or Dostoevsky?" As you might imagine from the very name of my book --- City Comforts --- I very much prefer Tolstoy.
Much of what I plan to write about in the next month or so is both critical - of the fact that we seem to have trouble with the mundane details of things, and that we look on them as obstacles to the grand Romantic gestures that too many of us convince ourselves are what matter - and hopeful, because when you get away form the Washington-New York-Los Angeles media axis, and out to the Little League fields, lots of people do center their lives around the small accomplishments that real life is made up of.
I don't deny the attraction of Romantic acts, or of introspection, or even of snobbery and elitism - and I think that a world made entirely of dutiful suburban communities would be horribly bland.
But somehow, the pendulum has swung a little to far from those kind of virtues, and I'd like to see it swing back."
I was trying to determine if Robert Campbell of the Boston Globe had a website of his architectural writings when I stumbled on (that is one of the great things about the web -- the serendipitous connection) Robert Fulford's column about courthouse architecture which contained this little gem:
"In the design symposium, Arthur Erickson, the architect of the Vancouver courthouse complex and many other structures, demonstrated once more that after he talks for ten minutes about the immense store of wisdom he has accumulated over the decades, everyone feels that something important has just happened although no one can recall anything he said."I have never heard Arthur Erickson hold forth but I use his Vancouver, British Columbia Robson Square (a sense of it at the extremely useful Great Buildings Online) as a perfect example of how good architecture (especially of the 'striving' type) can be very bad urban design.
Of course such a judgment is not my own personal visual conclusion but a behavioral one based on the actions of many, many others: walk around downtown Vancouver on a sunny day and see where the people hang-out. It won't be at sterile (yes that is a conclusion) Robson Square (which will be dead) but nearby along architecturally-mundane --- but human--- Robson Street, which will be teeming. People vote with their feet when it comes to comfortable spaces.
"The City Comforts Blog (I found another urban planning related blog!) discusses the 1984-ish implications of congestion pricing. Implications which I kind of disagree with. The claim made is that charging for use of the road system requires tracking cars--and therefore individuals--by the government, and that this ability to track would allow (or guarantee) abuse by the homeland security type branches of government. I think that this could easily be avoid through proper system design, and I'll try to convince City Comforts' David that this is the case."Well I don't know. I was in a somewhat similar discussion last night and proposals such as yours, Murph, all involve some technological fix to a technological problem. All involve reliance on people in authority to be honest and decent. And I mean the technoids who will actually run these systems as well as the administrative officials, Remember Lord Acton. "Power corrupts." My coda is "and even small bits of power, far less than 'absolute,' can corrupt."
I do see your point about spot-checking. Interesting. But it all comes down to anonymity in the transponder. No?
Congestion charges, to have any oomph, are going to aggregate to a $50/month or well more. People will want to pay by credit card for both convenience and record-keeping (reimbursement, tax deductions, etc.)
"You're paying cash for your transponder card? Really. That's interesting. What are you trying to hide."
Again, I'll have to think about it. But I think that there is some law, at a technological "spy-vs-spy" level, which makes me dubious that an "anonymous" system can either be created or would last. The thing which convinces me is that the value of the information which could be gathered is simply too high. Someone somewhere in the system is going to be corruptible. There is no safe which cannot be cracked. Even when the government has an enormous incentive to maintain a "pure" system, such as with currency, there are still plenty of counterfeiters doing their thing.
Maybe I have missed the point. As Murph of Common Monkeyflower suggests:
You wrote in your blog the other day here that you'd like Wikipedia to have bylines so that you could account for the author's bias. It seems to me that you're missing part of the point of the wiki format...Thank you. Interesting perspective.
If you (or any given person) considers an entry to be biased, they have but to rewrite it, sans bias. Of course, the first person might think the rewrite is biased, and they'll re-rewrite it, but eventually you'll stabilize on something which everybody can agree is good/fair enough to stop revising.
More useful than credits, then, would probably be just the integer number of people who have edited the page. Given a name--or six names--you'd have to go looking at their other stuff and trying to guess their biases, but given the information "6 authors" vs. "1 author", you could probably bet that the multi-author post had fewer shocking errors in it.
Regarding bias/credibility, it is obviously true that you can trust information from a known source more easily than info from an unknown source. Forcing all contributions to be signed and guaranteeing that all signatures be genuine, though, would bog down the wiki with administrative overhead. The strength of the wiki model that the wikipedia is trying to tap into is that anybody and everybody can contribute, fix mistakes, and root out spin or bias. How well this works in practice, I can't say.Hmmm...Let me think about this.
Digging around a little, it looks like they're not completely anonymous. The page "Wikipedians" (http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedians) claims that there are 750 self-identified contributors, 13000 registered accounts, and lots more edits that come from completely anonymous sources. If you subscribe to the open source idea that more eyes = fewer errors, then the number of people who appear to be working on wikipedia would seem to indicate that the information probably isn't heavily slanted in any direction.
A lot of the identified authors note links to their other webpages, as well as noting which pages they worked on. Pages also have "Page History" links, allowing you to see who (by ip address, if not user name) edited the page when, and to see each version of the page. So it's not completely anonymous (though ip addresses aren't the most informative things in the world).
UPDATE: No there is something about anonymity that bothers me. I like to know who I am talking to or listening to. I've been involved with on-line discussions in which one of the discussants had a nom de web and I thought it slightly strange. What are they trying to hide? What's the big deal? We're talking about urban planning for god's sake, not nuclear weapons. (You see that's the same kind of peer-group pressure which would arise in buying transponder credits etc. etc.)
WATERCOLOR: Bubbling Brooks and Waterfalls
Sunday, July 6
Don't miss all the fun, splashing and spattering with Susie Short as she shows you how to paint moving, bubbling water! From majestic waterfall to the small, bubbling mountain stream, Susie demonstrates useful watercolor techniques. Learn, step-by-step, how to achieve the impression of moving water with and without masking fluid. All Levels
10:30am - 4:30pm
$75 for the one -day class
James Howard Kunstler opines on one of his major concerns: "running out of oil" and reports indirectly --- via the principal of a site where you can also learn about the dark machinations around 9-11 --- about a conference on the the Study of Peak Oil.
The message emerging from the meeting is that the world may have already entered the unchartered territory of global oil depletion -- that is, the downside of "Hubbert's Curve," the bell graph first used by Shell Oil geologist M. King Hubbert in 1956 to describe the destiny of the world's oil supplies.After a recitation of indicators from the Conference that we are indeed using a lot of oil and may very well have less tomorrow than we do today, Jim asks us to "Go ahead and draw some conclusions." (I thought of how Clint Eastwood would have delivered that line.)
I guess I shouldn't make light of the matter, as I love to drive my car, but barring political cataclysms, it seems to me that "running out of oil" will be a relatively gradual affair. The downside of Hubbert's Curve is a slope, not a cliff.
The first indication of short supplies will be that prices will go up i.e. we will pay more for gasoline, natural gas, heating oil, etc etc--- thus giving people a --- duh --- hint and encouragement to look for new sources of energy. It won't be catastrophic. There will be years and decades of increasing prices which will give us all time to adjust through conservation, development of alternative energy sources and so forth. If we are too stupid to adjust, we will have problems. Am I missing something?
Last week I mentioned Jeffreys and Scrutons "The future is classical". It contains so much with which I agree --- it's a very worthwhile read --- that I feel it would be churlish to raise any fundamental objections.
But I do think that their essay mixes up architectural style with site planning. The two are different. One can have a pleasant, urbane street built with "far out" modern materials; one can build a suburban "power center" with columns. Site plan trumps architecture. Unless I entirely misunderstand their essay, I suggest that Scruton and Jeffreys misstate the problem. The classical vocabulary is very pleasant but it does not dictate a certain type of city, only a certain type of building.
To back up a bit, I am not positive I understand what the authors mean by modernism or classicism. in terms of town-planning.
When they speak of "modernism" are they speaking of an/any architectural style which does not take
as its central idea, the column, symbol of standing, bearing the architrave with a visible upthrust of rooted strength. The column can be repeated; it has an internal grammar, derived from base, shaft and capital; and also an external grammar, derived from the relations between vertical and horizontal sections, and the correspondence of part with part in a colonnade.Or are they speaking of a form of psychological governance over the building process based on star-architect artistes?
Modernism and post-modernism wrongly identify the task of the architect in terms appropriate to the private arts of painting, poetry and music, where endless experiment, and the elite culture which endorses it, are entirely natural. Nobody can object to Schoenbergs experiments in atonality or to Boulezs crystalline sound-effects, since people do not have to listen to them if they do not want to.Or do Jeffreys and Scruton think of the modernism/classicism distinction in relation to "site planning"? But their essay does not mention that concept directly. They do state:
But their experimental and defiant outlook is not acceptable in a public art like architecture: indeed, it violates the fundamental premise from which all good architecture begins, which is the connection between building and settlement.
The starting place for better development and planning must be a sea change in architectural aesthetics. Modernism should be abandoned and a return made to the classical values that created the first cities of our time.Is their call for "classical values" to be taken to mean a "classical site-plan?" Are they calling then for getting rid of cars? A "car-free" city? Such a call is not unknown. See Carfree Cities, for example. But they make no mention of such a dramatic idea.
The only plausible definition of "classical site-planning" would, I surmise, be a city built around the Three Rules of urban design in which the building enfronts directly on the street and opens on to it with doors and windows. Jeffreys/Scruton may be getting at this when they say
modernist buildings violate the skyline, the street-line, and the urban texture of downtown areas, with few if any compensating advantages.The classical city as I can tease it out of their essay is merely the pre-automobile city --- which is what we almost universally hold up as the ideal of "cityness." That ideal pedestrian-oriented city is not defined by architecture but by site-plan. Classical cities simply did not have to deal with the problem of the automobile. When forced upon them parking is either/and on-street or "elsewhere." The bad, "tower in the park" city of Wright and Corbusier can have columns galore.
But building good walkable cities has nothing to do with architectural style per se. One can build such a "classical site plan" with the most modern materials. The classical grammar is not essential. I like classical buildings but what I like most of all is a pedestrian-oriented street and that can be designed using totally modern materials (so long as one observes the Three Rules).
To put it more vividly, would a suburban strip-mall built using the classical vocabulary be better than the kind of nondescript garbage we usually see? I think not. I do agree it would be unusual and perhaps, if it didn't look too weird, it might be visually attractive. But what makes our modern cities so objectionable is not that lack sufficient "base, shaft and capital" but they are built around the automobile and ignore the Three Rules.
While agree I with so much that Jeffreys and Scruton say, their critique of modern urbanism is ultimately flawed. Rather than arguing for classicism based on "architectural aesthetics" --- which is always arguable --- I suggest that what they are really after is a "classical site-planning" out of which flows measurable and empirical human behavior e.g. people walking on the sidewalks.
I think I agree with Jeffrys/Scruton (as with Katherine Knorr in the earlier post on Paris) about the symptoms. But I don't hear a remedy. Well I do, come to think of it, and the remedy troubles me some for it is a remedy of religious conversion. The problem is not a matter of insufficient adherence to particular abstractions, the problem is a rather mundane one of, as I like to put it in the most banal way possible, putting the parking lot in the wrong spot.
These are indeed adverse comments. I offer them because the task of city-building is indeed so important. It is critical that criticism be practical, that the reader take away some notion of "what to do." Indeed, modern land use governance offers tremendous opportunities for public comment. Such comment must go beyond a demand for classical columns.
Or let me put it another way and this is indeed a serious question for the authors: In what way are classical columns a 'pattern generator' for a city?
It's a terrific idea. I wonder if the $1 billion number figure for a new Elliott Bay seawall already includes restoring the Elliott Bay shoreline. Or is this superb but apparently new element of the program just a budget-buster?
Redesign the shoreline, using an innovative design for the seawall, to recreate beaches and shallow water areas, so the Sound's diverse creatures can find their niches in the bay. Imagine peering over a downtown railing to see Puget Sound's amazing seastars, octopi, birds and anemones.The appeal of habitat restoration in motivating voters could be politically significant in getting the money ---
(You know the old story about the great architect who visits the graduating class at his old school? And when asked to offer some words of advice to young architects embarking on their career says simply:
"get the job."So too with politicians.)
--- and one has to wonder if it is introduced to create another constituency for the Elliott Bay mega-project. And from a strictly scientific "triage" approach, is Elliott Bay the best place to start on Puget Sound habitat restoration? i.e. are there other estuaries which are not nearly as degraded and where the money could go a lot further, and thus have a greater impact on Puget Sound as a whole? This essentially scientific question should be part of the debate. But probably won't be.
Nonetheless, the idea of large scale habitat restoration is one whose time is overdue. Interested in the subject? Read Nigel Calder's brilliant Environment Game.(1967 and out-of-print but worth tracking-down.)
It appears as if a Stretch of Hwy. 167 selected for study of toll 'HOT' lanes
The HOV lanes on Highway 167 between Renton and Auburn could become the region's first "HOT" lanes — open not just to transit and car pools but also to solo drivers willing to pay a toll.I am skeptical about congestion pricing. But experimentation is healthy. So let's try it. I do not see a great deal of downside risk, at this point.
The state Department of Transportation plans to spend the next few months studying the idea. A recommendation could come before the end of the year.
Converting the freeway's high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy/toll (HOT) lanes between Interstate 405 in Renton and 15th Street Northwest in Auburn would require the state Transportation Commission's approval. State laws and federal regulations that prohibit tolls on existing highways built with federal help would need to be amended or waived.
And the department would need to find money to pay for the project.
But if the study's results are encouraging and those obstacles are overcome, the HOT lanes could be operating by late next year, said Mike Cummings, the department's corridor-planning manager.
Car pools and buses on Highway 167 would continue to use the lanes at no charge.
Cummings said 167 was selected over other highways for study and possible conversion because, while peak-period congestion in the freeway's general-purpose lanes is bad, the HOV lanes have plenty of unused capacity.
Sheri Olson writes that architecturally Seattle's new McCaw Hall is a real star but
As much as it is a star at night, the opera house is a black hole along Mercer during the day...Mercifully the old loading dock is gone, but the street facade is an unrelenting five-story expanse of metal siding. A row of windows at the first floor is dark spandrel glass stymieing any attempts to look into the new 400-seat lecture hall.Olson tunes in very insightfully to the enormous point of leverage in making an institutional structure into a good urban building: "programming" tyhe building so that at least some of its subsidiary functions --- gift shops, executive offices, security, purchasing, personnel, etc. etc. --- are placed at sidewalk level iso as to to activate the street. (It's also a very inexpensive technique --- simply a matter of where you place functions which you have to accommodate somewhere anyway i.e. there is no budget impact.)
There are several spaces behind the blank facade that could have handled windows -- dressing rooms, the rehearsal hall, offices -- so the cold shoulder the opera house gives the city along Mercer is a mystery.
But institutions are almost universally reluctant to do so. Where, for example, does the Seattle Art Museum place its excellent cafe? Hidden inside the structure so that it is accessible only when the Museum is open. It could have been placed with direct access to the street, increasing the cafe's financial viability and contributing even more (than SAM already does) to a lively First Avenue. But institutions seem to hate to take part in street life.
the first hotel ever to offer its guest over 6,000 volumes organized throughout the hotel by the DDC. Each of the 10 guestrooms floors honors one of the 10 categories of the DDC and each of the 60 rooms is uniquely adorned with a collection of books and art exploring a distinctive topic within the category or floor it belongs to.I love libraries.
I wonder if one could "bid" on a trip using this Mobile Traffic Map device? (That's following up on an earlier remark that congestion pricing requires interactivity between drivers and marketmaker.)
Take back the hours you sacrifice sitting in trafficThanks to The Bus Stop
TrafficGauge is available at the low introductory price of just $49.99 (plus S&H) with a minimum trial commitment of six months of service - just $4.99 per month (less than $.15 per commute). TrafficGauge comes with a 30-Day, No Risk, Money Back Guarantee: Put TrafficGauge to the test for at least a week. If for any reason you're not completely satisfied in the first 30 days, we'll refund your purchase price, no questions asked. And TrafficGauge comes with a full One Year Limited Warranty.
How much is it worth to you to avoid just one traffic jam each month?
Last week, the Greater London Assembly was informed that the congestion charge will only raise £65m, not the £121m Mr Livingstone claimed when it was launched, and less than a third of the £210m first envisaged. The shortfall, caused by fewer private car drivers paying the charge than forecast, is another blow to Mr Livingstone's finances.Haven't they ever heard of lowering the price to sell more? They are merely charging too much. Livingstone's grand experiment has proven decisively that demand for road use is "elastic" --- that demand will vary as price varies. So now go play with it, I presume. "Setting" the price to effect their congestion & income (therein lies the rub) goals cannot be done by fiat (not to pun) but by experimentation. You wanted a market? You've got one. But is a government bureaucracy capable of subtle ongoing price adjustments?
'Declan McCullagh reports on a proposed regulation coming from the Council of Europe:"The all-but-final proposal draft says that Internet news organizations, individual Web sites, moderated mailing lists and even Web logs (or "blogs"), must offer a "right of reply" to those who have been criticized by a person or organization."Better be more careful on who you criticize in your blog. It might put you in prison.'
PLANETIZEN is an extremely useful site. Part of its quality is based on heavy reader participation. It is rare to turn to it and not find a fascinating reference.
Here for example is the camera phone. Such a tool might well have utility for bloggers since one can post by email.
Picture phones are standard cellphones with built-in lenses that enable rudimentary photography...it turns out that the picture phone's combination of simple imaging and instant connectivity also works for serious uses. It's too early to say what percentage of picture phone owners are using the technology for work, but Strategy Analytics said that in five years, as much as 20 percent of picture phone users will be using the technology for work-related purposes.Or maybe blogging.
Pino bought his four picture phones a month ago to maintain constant visual contact with members of his crew who are working in distant towns.
''Before picture phones, if one of my guys had an unexpected problem, he would call me and try to explain it,'' he said. ''Most of the time, I'd have to drive over to look at it. Now he just sends me a picture.'' Last week, for example, one of Pino's crews working in Winthrop discovered a broken drain pipe in a wall.
Pino, in Newton at the time, requested a cellphone picture instead of driving over to examine the situation. Within minutes the Winthrop crew was proceeding with updated instructions from Pino.
''That saved me an afternoon,'' Pino said.
Pino also uses his picture phone to stay in touch with customers, taking advantage of the phone's capacity to send pictures to e-mail addresses.
''If I reach a point where I have a question, I just e-mail a picture of the situation to the client,'' he said. ''Most of them are sitting in front of a computer all day anyway.''
Portlock uses her picture phone to get ''really, really quick pictures'' of properties to clients who are at work, or traveling.
If it ever got down to specifics, I would probably agree almost entirely with the author of The destruction of Paris. But "telling" and "asserting" that something is wrong is not as effective as "showing."
What distinguishes the most recent massacre is that, under the code words of modernity and urbanisme, what animates the many culprits, in and out of government, is the same kind of contempt for knowledge, tradition, beauty, and truth that animates the enemies of the idea of a Western canon in education and of the more time-tested values of human civilization...It's reassuring to learn that Paris is/was also having problems of urban growth; there are great many people on my side of the Atlantic who seem to think mediocre response to development problems is some special moral failing of Americans and that Europeans have it knocked cold.
I do not know Paris well-enough at all to comment on the catalog of horrors which the author sets forth; I'll assume that she is dead-on right. But like many discussions of the built environment, this article from a prestige journal (The New Criterion) is full of moralistic assertions but insufficient concrete detail (and what else should an article about the built environment contain?) to show us the way. The author's understandable scorn for the use of "code words" to discuss buildings ("modernity and urbanisme" ) is hardly persuasive----even a bit grimly humorous----when she herself uses twice as many code words ("knowledge, tradition, beauty, and truth") to make her own point. Is it really plausible that the problem is that the decision-makers had "contempt for knowledge, tradition, beauty, and truth"? That would somehow imply that a person who had no familiarity with any technical issues of managing cities, but who loved "knowledge, tradition, beauty, and truth," would succeed at urban planning. I don't think so.
Instinctively I view the author, as a kindred spirit, an ally in making comfortable cities, and so I urge her and others who care to drop the grandiose language and get down to physical details. It may in fact be true that Paris (as of January '98 when the author wrote) demonstrated "the triumph of vulgarity, greed, and ignorance over the enduring aesthetic of one of the worlds most beautiful cities." But isn't that a bit ahistorical? Does the author think that the builders of the 17th & 18th centuries were socialists?
And therein lies the truly intriguing puzzle obscured by terms such as "vulgarity, greed, and ignorance": how did societies which were far more morally-corrupt than ours produce so much better cities? I don't think the answer lies in cant.
I have no sure answer. But obviously the auto -- a serendipitous social invention --- is the major pattern generator of our era. And maybe that is the end of the story of 'why?' and there is no need for high dudgeon and moralisms.
But in any case, the only way we will make any progress is by public education. The author has lots of (probably valid) complaints --- her remarks on facadisme started to go somewhere --- but many come across as simple snobbery and annoyance at change. Sneering at the hoi polloi ("Americans wearing berets") may offer a frisson but it hardly leads to enhanced public consciousness.
Designed to create conflict? No it couldn't be.
Was the new Koolhaas-designed Public Library, read more here, deliberately designed to be an icon of divisiveness?
"These new public buildings are doing what public buildings are supposed to do. Even before they are finished, they are political and controversial, sending out messages and symbolism, eliciting comment pro and con."Sure sounds like it. And those are in the words of a former Mayor of Seattle. Initially I thought his words a mere make-weight to defend a design (which may soon turn out to be unpopular). Now I am wondering if hip-conflict really was the Library Board's specific intention.
The idea that public buildings should be controversial is dead wrong at its core. Public buildings are supposed to (in the cloying but accurate language Seattle knows so well) "heal" and "bring us together." Libraries in particular are supposed to be a neutral ground for even the most diametrically-opposed views. It is disturbing to think that the Library Board might deliberately invite an architect --- Koolhaas --- to design a building which would symbolize and further social divisions. But it sounds as if the former Mayor is saying just that --- Koolhaas did what he was hired to do: design a public building which would sow controversy and discord. The Scourge of Modernism states:
Similarly, as last week's New York Times Sunday Magazine shows, postmodern architects are very good at achieving their goals. The stated purpose of architecture according to the post-modernists is conflict, political statement, ridicule, and satire. They want to make you feel uncomfortable and ill at ease in their buildings. This is the explicit design goal.And we are somehow supposed to welcome a Library like that as progressive, I guess. I am honestly astonished that anyone could see creating discomfort and controversy --- as if there isn't enough --- as a virtue. Surely the former Mayor, for whom I voted more than once, misspoke. Or perhaps I misjudge how far architectural obscurantism has penetrated into the liberal intelligentsia.
We have enough social conflict without intentionally designing it into the fabric of the city.
If it makes sense to give tax breaks for South Lake Union biotechs then maybe we should get rid of taxes completely? For every business?
Last week, the Seattle City Council endorsed redeveloping the South Lake Union area as a biotechnology hub, touting the economic benefits of Paul Allen's plan to build 10 million square feet of new office and lab space there.There are only two things wrong with this picture:
The biotech firms the city hopes to attract would enjoy at least three major tax breaks that would save them — and their landlords — tens of millions of dollars over the next 20 years.
In fact, what Paul Allen's Vulcan is doing in South Lake Union is fine with me. He's planning to build a lot of buildings and rent the space out. I hope it works out for him. Criticisms of his activities are flawed. Allen will have to follow what appears to me to be a fairly simple but straightforward plan which should produce a reasonably good urban neighborhood. By the same token, his development should stand on its own. Allen shouldn't build (and I am sure won't build) ahead of market demand. Within the very broad parameters set by zoning, let Vulcan rent to whomever it likes. Don't try to skew the demand for space into some sort of vision, such as Seattle as biotech center. It is not government's job to "create jobs," (except for WPA-type projects for which I am actually a great advocate.)
The City should do an exemplary job of doing what it is supposed to do: be a government. It should enact intelligent and demanding zoning to create a pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, (which I believe it already has done), process the permit applications rigorously and quickly (it needs a bit of work there) and then get out of the way. But don't give Vulcan any special deals. Conversely, don't look at Vulcan as a big fat 'target of opportunity' and try to soak it for extra-special 'public benefits.' Both courses of action are tempting but are socially corrosive.
In an article on The destruction of Paris (comments later on the article itself) the author opens with:
A few years ago, Eric Rohmer made a movie about the mayor of a village in the Vende who decides that what his picturesque hamlet needs is not a new library but a mediathque, an untranslatable word for a fashionable multimedia boondoggle.I must see this movie, which I believe is titled L' Arbre, le maire et la mediatheque.
A mediathque building must be erected, which means bringing in an architect and setting aside space for parking lots and handicapped ramps and the right municipal lighting. In this particular village, it also would mean cutting down the venerable and pleasant tree near the house of the baba cool village teacher.
The teacher, not surprisingly, is against the whole project, as are related other stock characters in this curious movie: the newspaper editor, the muckraking freelance journalist, the mayors good-looking girlfriend, all for their own reasons. But it is the teacher who sums up certain things best: he has always been against the death penalty, he says, but he is in favor of restoring it, for architects.
UPDATE: According to Scarecrow Video this movie does not appear to have been released in the USA. If there is contrary information or other source of availability, please let me know. D.S.
Transport Blog offers another reason to visit Bilbao
The metro system has a couple of other items of note. For one thing, rather than being at or below river level, in some cases the metro line has instead been dug inside the steep banks of the river. An interesting consequence of this is that whenever there is a side valley going off the main river valley, the metro line comes out of the side of a hill, goes through an elevated section over the tributary river, and then enters a hill on the other side of the tributary valley. It is quite spectacular.Seattle is building an (elevated) monorail system. As Seattle is a hilly city in a picturesque region (Mount Rainier etc etc) the views from the cars should be spectacular. Such a benefit should not be underestimated in creating ridership. I grew up riding the subways of Manhattan and every time I hear one of my neighbors suggest that it is too bad that we couldn't have afforded tunneling to build a subway, I have to wonder if she has ever ridden a subterranean system on a daily basis. I think that it is a grim experience and the visual stimulation of the Seattle system will be another intangible but very real benefit of elevated transit. Actually maybe not so intangible, as once we have built the system, we want people to ride it in order (among other things) to pay for it.
I wrote earlier that I wouldn't comment on the Koolhaas design until the building was complete. And what's the rush? It will be with us for years. In fact I visited last week because I had been told that it was sufficiently finished to sense the final effect. I walked around it. I took pictures. But the lack of glazing made me hold off public comment; the glazing will have a significant impact on its appearance. And I want to be rigorous, try to drop any psychological "investment" in my adverse already-stated opinion about the building as a piece of urban design. I saw that construction still had a way to go. So I decided to, and will try to, hold-off comment on the design itself until the work is done. Fair?
But then (this morning) I read former-Mayor Charles Royer here cheer-leading for the design in such a backhanded way that I assume that there must already be tremendous adverse comment about the Library circulating in leadership circles. Mr. Royer is exceedingly well-connected and seemed to me to be making a preemptive strike in anticipation of a huge public outcry when the Library is in fact finished.
Just up the street from the new City Hall, an even riskier design is taking shape in the form of the new Central Library. Like City Hall, this building reflects the values of conservation and efficiency. But it is unabashedly designed to break new ground in architecture, to challenge and inspire.
Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architect and winner of one of architecture's highest honors, the Pritzker Prize, the $156 million Central Library will be one of those buildings people may love and perhaps hate. But when Aunt Em comes to town, people will surely take her to see it. It will be an important building, reflecting the changing nature of architecture and the new age of information systems.
A city playing a leadership role in the new information economy will have a leadership building to store and dispense information. And this city will have a new icon.
These new public buildings are doing what public buildings are supposed to do. Even before they are finished, they are political and controversial, sending out messages and symbolism, eliciting comment pro and con.
Royer appears to be trying to persuade us that hiring Koolhaas was a good idea and that the money was well-spent (so give us some more.) But you notice he says nothing nice about the building. He's an honest man and he can't express a positive opinion of the design even in an op-ed. It's called "damning by faint praise" and the "barking dog" syndrome.
The idea that public buildings are supposed to be "controversial", "challenging" and elicit "comment" sounds like a make-weight to defend a foolish design which stemmed from a naive decision to hire Koolhaas in the first place. ("Well you don't like the Library? That's understandable -- few do. But that's why we built it --- so we could have something to discuss.") Public consensus that a building so visible in every way (Seattle likes its libraries) was ineptly handled undermines future appeals for public money by showing that the decision-makers were not up to the job. (Koolhaas was hired, btw, well over a decade after Royer left office.)
Britain's first 12-lane superhighway, modelled on America's freeways, is set to be built in Britain as part of expansion plan costing up to £6bn to cope with the crisis on the country's roads.Yeah right.
I am a supply-sider when it comes to roads: supply induces demand. It seems empirically one of the iron laws American life. But I shouldn't get out on too much of a limb. Perhaps there are some British circumstances --- they are starting from a very, very low installed base and so forth --- which suggest that Britain needs more highways. Of course you can't really build much for £6bn.
My dim recollection (1993) from driving around London is that there seemed to be plenty of "interstate-style" ring road and plenty, plenty of cars overall. Out of London (we made a pilgrimage to Portmeirion in Wales) my memory is that while the roads were narrow, which of course meant that my "hey! it's only 300 miles" meant a tiring drive, the traffic didn't seem so terrible. Of course that was vacation and everything looks different then.
But Darling makes an interesting proposal: build more highways and then charge for them so not too many people will use them.
Say, talking about more imports from America, we also have a very nice bridge; it will look smashing in London.
Urban design critic Mark Hinshaw suggests that we
[t]ake, for example, the Taco Time on Northeast 45th Street in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood. Here is a shopping street filled with small, locally owned businesses. Each has added a combination of carefully crafted storefront windows, entrances and signs - all aimed at engaging the people who stroll along the street day and night. What does this fast-food business do but thumb its nose at all this effort and build a box of mirrored glass that looks as if it wandered in from some suburban office park. The folks who designed the building should be ashamed of themselves for doing such violence to the streetscape.Two points. I'll do my best to include photos or at least a sketch whenever discussing a building. There is far, far too much conversation in words alone about objects, and this in a medium ---the TV screen for god's sake --- where it is fairly easy to show an image.
So here is a picture of the Taco Time as discussed above.
I would differ slighty with Hinshaw about the Taco Time. It's a great example of how "site plan trumps architecture"--but not entirely.
The site plan is good: it more-or-less follows "The Three Rules." Built to the sidewalk, the parking in back (which you can't see in this photo -- I owe myself a lunch so I'll cruise by and see if I can get a better pic.) etc. etc.
But the mirrored-glass violates one of the sub-Rules and prevents the permeability/transparency which a building needs if it is to allow the inside/outside exchange which creates a pedestrian-oriented street. If the owners replace the mirrored-glass with see-through glass (what a funny idea!) the building would have a totally-different impact on the street.
Furthermore, where I differ from Mark Hinshaw slightly is in his apparent stress in this article on the appearance of buildings. The point needs to be made over-and-over again --- (and it was Hinshaw who first led me to understand this very point) --- urban design rules are NOT aesthetic so much as behavioral i.e. we want the design of buildings to encourage a different civic experience and human behavior on the street. Because of its mirrored-glass, the Taco Time is a good example of "almost but not quite." But it is not the abomination many think. It's just a purchase order away from being quite nice.
I have no idea if this book Civilizing Downtown Highways is any good but it seems to be dealing with what I consider to be the central problem of our culture, this:
I kid you not. The auto-oriented 4-to-8 lane suburban arterials are universally detested, used daily by hundreds of millions and represent the very worst of American culture. "Civilizing" them --- literally --- is an enormous challenge. While what is wrong with them is extremely simple --- they violate the Three Rules --- the social mechanics of transforming them are beset by extraordinary difficulties, not the least of which is that the idea of transforming them is hardly a glimmer in the public imagination. These abominations are generally-accepted as a necessity of modern American life.
So I am curious to see what this book (a bit pricey at $32.95 for 100 pages) has to offer. The blurb from Congress for the New Urbanism, its publisher:
Anyone interested in traffic calming should read Civilizing Downtown Highways. It describes how municipalities in California are using innovative designs and policies to calm the state highways that pass through downtown areas. These roads are among the toughest to work on, as state highway departments are determined to maintain throughput. But locals are equally determined to create walkable, business-friendly streets. The result is some creative collaborations that are worth imitating.UPDATE: I wrote above "...the central problem of our culture." I should have written "...the central problem of our culture besides racism."
While this publication focuses on case studies in California, the lessons and techniques can be applied to any state's highway system.
The proof is in. Pricing a hitherto "free" public good is not easy. The London congestion charge has been so successful that Transport for London has an income shortfall.
"The £5 levy was so successful in deterring motorists that income from it was only half the £130m predicted."Either the price will have to go down, encouraging more driving, or general tax funds will have to be found to make up the shortfall. The latter option means that the public will also pay for decreasing congestion for those drivers still left on the road.
"It is still early days for the congestion charge, but the scheme was always designed to reduce congestion and not raise revenue," he said. "It is working very well and congestion in central London has been cut by some 40 per cent.UPDATE: Why so many words here on congestion pricing?
"But as a direct consequence of the scheme's success, we are likely to be slightly below our original estimates of how much we might make from it."
For one thing I have a friend who in this regard is an "early adopter" and has been talking to me about congestion pricing for literally ten years. So I am astonished and intrigued that what I initially thought was just a nutty academic scheme has now become a reality.
Second, the more I look at it, the more concerned I am that congestion pricing will in fact become a more wide-spread reality and wreck havoc with civil liberties.
But then that last concern is tempered by a third issue: the car has been and will continue to be the main "pattern generator" of the built environment for the foreseeable future. While I love to drive I also recognize that the car has been very destructive and that it is an imperative to try to find some sort of middle-ground. London, a true "world city," has embarked upon a remarkable experiment to attempt to control some of the auto's worst impacts. This experiment may not work at any level but it is both a very large and very bold experiment and deserves careful consideration, maybe even a field trip to study the natives and their wheels in situ.
This London experiment is a very big story.
So that's why so many words.