Sunday, August 31, 2008
Labor Day Weekend
Yesterday we drove to Williamstown. Using the car navigator to stay off many of the main road, we found ourselves coming into town on a dirt road with this wonderful view.
One of the great things about living in New York is that one can so easily visit New England.
Saturday, August 30, 2008
UPDATE: Ernie the Attorney, an always intelligent blogger, is riding out the storm in New Orleans. It appears that the city may not be badly hit.
ONE OF our greatest and most unique cities is under attack. God bless New Orleans.
We haven't reached September yet, but the names of storms and hurricanes are already up to the letter K. Global warming continues, and rising ocean temperatures cause more hurricanes and changing weather patterns.
No one knew how bad it would be. As Katrina bore in we started to expect the worst, somehow knowing it was not just another hurricane. Millions had their lives transformed, and are still suffering.
In fewer than 12 hours evacuation for Gustav begins, a storm that might have even stronger winds than Katrina by the time it hits the Gulf Coast.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
McCain Campaign Hits New Low
(After McCain Complained That Obama's More Popular And Compared Him To Paris Hilton)
PS - Note to Senator Obama: Idea for INVESCO? Great! Execution? Not so much. Classical design isn't hard, but people notice when you get the basics wrong. Next time call the Institute for Classical Architecture & Classical America and we'll set you up with someone better than Britney's set designer.
Below are contrasting photos of the backdrop at Invesco and a similar element at the Hearst Greek Theater at the University of California at Berkeley.
More photos after the jump. Huffington Post blogger Bob Cesca has photos of McCain with columns.
Don't Know Much
Monday, August 25, 2008
Traditional Architecture & Urbanism = Conservative (NOT)
ONE REACTION TO MY POST BELOW is to portray it as reactionary and anti-modern, as though the current architectural fashion for Starchitecture and a self-proclaimed avant-garde (with a long-expired sell-by date, imo) is somehow more progressive. It's not.
Politically, I vary, depending on the issue, between a social leftist and a social moderate. Economically, I'm progressive. I agree with the idea that capitalism is the best system we have, and with the long-standing American idea that it has to be controlled or else it will run amok (see TR and FDR). Culturally, I've been an early adopter of computers and the internet and more importantly agree with people like Wired's Kevin Kelly and Senator Obama that the internet helps point the way to a more open, democratic and bottom-up world.
I firmly believe in progress, and that civilizations have progressed. I like to point out that when I was a kid (and I'm not that old), our nation's capital had legal segregation of the races. While today, a black man is the leading candidate for President.
Furthermore, I was trained as a Modernist architect, and like most Americans, I'm not ideological about Modernism, either pro or con. I am passionate about the need to make good, sustainable cities, towns, villages and neighborhoods, and that produces conflicts with the egocentric, object-oriented Starchitect system. And with the ideological and very limited Modernism taught at schools like Tulane, which could be the poster child for the state of American architectural education in 2008.
I've never voted for a Republican presidential candidate, and I'm wild about Obama.
BTW, Karl Rove owns a house in the New Urban resort pictured above, but so do a lot of people with Obama and Clinton stickers.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
What's The Big Idea?
TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE - that's why most kids decide to go to architecture school. But most architecture schools sabotage that by placing an emphasis on "being different" and "being modern." "Modern" means things like flat roofs, horizontal windows (in other words, style) and things like "the big idea" (watch the clip above).
It's easy to show that most kids don't arrive at architecture school with those ideas. But pretty quickly, their professors have practically all of them sounding like Howard Roark. And that means that when they deal with someone other than the upper middle class, they're usually imposing unpopular ideas on their clients.
The Sundance Channel has a new program on the Tulane architecture school, which should be at the center of helping its city rebuild after Katrina. But watch the first program here, and clips from future shows here. The students go in with big hearts and good intentions, but come out with "prototypes" that are expensive and often unwanted and that therefore will never be repeated.
The woman running the organization that builds the houses says, "What I want is 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a 1,200 square foot house."
The professor running the Tulane program says, "I want innovation, I want affordability, and I want a really bold gesture" — and during the series we see that affordability goes out the window because of innovation and bold gestures.
The professor asks the students why they're being so cautious, and tells them that "as a good designer you're required to be much more inventive." And he talks about the big ideas in buildings like Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum and Louis Kahn's Salk Institute, without explaining that these are public buildlings, rather than urban fabric like the private houses the students are designing. Or that Wright's "big idea," the ramp, is usually considered a bad solution for an art museum.
"I keep asking you, 'What's the big idea? What's the primary concept of this scheme?'"
Not surprisingly, the students respond to this simplistic question with abstract ideas that mean nothing to the people who live in the house, like "a folding plane," or say "My concept is shifting volumes both vertically and horizontally."
One student says, "Hopefully all of us that are designing are taking into mind the scale of the neighborhood. But you're always trying to push the envelope a little bit and come up with things that are a little more exciting."
The clip below shows what some of the residents of the neighborhood think of this.
"I think they're ugly. Put [the neighborhood] back like it was," says one.
"Make a left by that odd house that looks like it's from outer space," another tells people when she gives them directions to her house.
"Experiment over on St. Charles" (a rich man's street) a longtime resident says. But architects experiment on the poor, who have no choice. The question is why socially conscious architecture students let their professors give them simplistic concepts like "the big idea" when these concepts fight against socially and urbanistically acceptable solutions.
No city in America has residents with more devotion to their buildings and their neighborhoods than New Orleans. Tulane's esoteric contributions to this are too rigidly ideological to allow the qualities that make their city so loved. Sad to say, not one of the buildings designed by the students will ever be loved the way the old shotgun houses are.
What's the big idea that we think that's okay?
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Finally, a use for Facebook
SUDDENLY, lots of people from one of my Harvard classes were joining Facebook, and then a lot of New Urbanists did too. But what do you do there?
Then last night, a friend mentioned in his "status report" that it was his birthday, and I managed to send him an email before the day ended (thanks iPhone). At the same time, someone else mentioned he'd had lunch at Momofuku Ko. It was 9, we dashed down to Momofuku for dinner, and it was great. My new favorite restaurant, and only $50 for two.