Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Landscape Urbanism: Take away the mumbo jumbo and the pretty pictures, and
what's left is
- Modernist ideologues who want to dictate style (as always - you can have any style you want, as long as it's Modernist),
- a lot of talk about the same "experimentation" that ruined so many cities and towns over the last 50 years,
- intellectual concepts rather than placemaking,
- tilted planes, and
- precious and unnatural "natural" grasses (often in violation of the urban to rural transect).
It's not new. When Douglas Duany was in the landscape program at Harvard's Graduate School of Design in the early 1990s, the aesthetic was in place. But the mantra was, "We need a theory." Now they have one.
The theory is a strong attempt to reclaim urbanism for Modernism. They realize that Modern architecture and urban design lost that battle, and so they're coming back with "ecology" and "environmentalism."
Monday, September 20, 2010
"New Urbanism Is Not the Next Urbanism" - Andrés Duany
IF YOU"RE NOT AN URBAN DESIGNER, this video may be too esoteric for you, but in the video Andrés shows just how smart he is.
Dear Pret A Manger - Why are your London restaurants so much cheaper and better than your branches in New York?
IT doesn't make sense. A lunch that costs £6 or £7* at Pret A Manger in London, costs $15 in New York (which is about 50% more). But New York is cheaper than London (if something costs $1 or $2 in New York, it usually costs 1 or 2 more expensive pounds in London), and the city now has excellent access to good local produce, meats and cheese.
Why do I ask? Well, in London I liked the Pret A Manger food and found it a good buy. In New York the food has been disappointing, and I've stopped going.
* $9 to $10
PS: "In London, McDonald's is so 20th century" - McDonald's knows this, which is why they owned a large stake in Pret A Manger from 2001 to 2008. In America, McDonald's was the largest stakeholder in Chipotle until a public stock offering in 2006.
The topic of "the problem of numbers," raising the quality of chain stores is an interesting and the issue of local economies is an interesting one. The chains market so well and make so much money.
Friday, September 17, 2010
V&V REDUX: The Way We Build Now
I RECENTLY came across these stills from Ayn Rand's egocentric movie The Fountainhead. I saw the film many years ago but apparently never noticed (being an architecture student and all) what a TERRIBLE building Howard Roark's "work of genius" was. You can see it in the photo above on the window sill. Like all egocentric works of art, it is self-referential, without context. Roark sees it as a self-generating object expressing technology, construction and function, with no context or urban fabric necessary for its design. And, it's boring. A boring box, with no composition, rhythm, massing or human scale. At the base, it detaches from its surroundings, ignoring one of the first rules of urban design, namely that stores "activate" streets, making them more interesting for, you know, people.
In the second photo, the philistine bankers, who are fatter and balder than our hero, have committed the ultimate barbarism: challenging the egocentric judgement of The Great Artist. Of course we can all agree that what they've done is pretty silly. But let's point out that no good Classical architect would ever propose such a silly solution. This is the classic straw man.
The reason the photos struck me is because the silly solution is very similar to what "historic preservationists" say is the proper solution when adding to an old building: make the addition contrast with the original, so we can tell them apart. The addition should also be "of its time," which means Modernist (see below). So a Classical addition to a modern building is bad, and State Historic Preservation Offices won't allow them. In fact, they usually won't allow Classical additions to Classical buildings, because they're not "of our time" and "you can't tell them apart." But they will promote an addition like the one below (a steel and glass tower behind an old Classical building that becomes its base), which seems to me very little different from the travesty that Roarke rightly complained about. After the jump, a bonus photo from Midtown Manhattan.
PS: What a surprise — Rand's egocentric architect is self-tortured. That's what the ego does, torture us, at the same time it makes us think it's right and that we should be tortured.
Urbanism and an Architecture of Place
I just came back from a walk in one of the most beautiful parts of Greenwich Village
It's Only One Short Step from “Wow” to “Bow-Wow”
Cogito Ego Sum II
Egotecture to be branded as Ecotecture
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Oversized, Under-detailed & Over here
WHEN I WAS an exchange student in London, the city had only three towers: Centre Point Tower (which for tax reasons was empty for many years after it was built), the Royal Mail's telecom structure, and a Hilton hotel which would no longer be considered a tower (but guests could see over Buckingham Palace to the Queen's private garden, so it seemed taller then).
That was a long time before Prince Charles gave his famous Carbuncle Speech and said that Modernism had caused more damage to London than the Luftwaffe during the Blitz. His line seemed funny at the time, but on my current trip it seems sadly prophetic. I grew up thinking that the English were smarter than us when it came to contemporary urban design, so it's been dismaying to see how many terrible urban streets they've made in the last ten years, like the transformation of the ancient Bishopsgate, above.
Britain was poor when I was a student, but London was physically one of the great cities of the world. Unless you were blind, you could see that it had once been at the center of the world: the inner city was filled with fantastic stone buildings, and around the center were wonderful neighborhoods. London was beautiful and unique.
In the last ten years, developers and Modern architects have pushed the idea that Modern cities need large glass buildings. This unholy alliance is ruining - and threatening to ruin - cities around the world.
More on this when I get home. In the meantime, God Save the Prince - not because he's a prince, but because he is on the side of the angels.
V&V: The New World Order — Houston, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Dubai
V&V: More Signs of the Apocalypse - Paris is the new Dubai
V&V: Just when you think you're out, they pull you back in!
V&V: The Mayor Proposes