Point of View

The METROPOLIS Blog

July 2012

Icon or Eyesore? Part 3: The Preservationist Perspective

07/31/12

Icon or Eyesore? Part 3: The Preservationist Perspective

          Our last post, “Stakeholder Equilibrium,” identified the historic preservation community as a critical voice in the debate about whether and how to reuse mid-twentieth century modern buildings. But today we face the challenge of a divided voice among preservationists: There are those who have a long-held reverence of original materials and those who recognize this way of thinking as unrealistic for many modern buildings. The preservation ethic that has guided American and European architects regarding the repair, restoration, and adaptive reuse of historic buildings was originally derived from principles of fine arts conservators. William Morris, the English artist and textile designer, was an originator of the...

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Beautiful End of the World

07/29/12

Beautiful End of the World

“Safe Harbor” Joseph G. Brin © 2012 You may have already had an end of the world experience – and just didn't know it. I'm not talking about a disaster by any means. Instead, this is about a soaring, heightened sense in nature, attaining a state of grace that is rare, brief and unpredictable. What accounts for this phenomenon? Does design have the power to create something equivalent? If so, what happens when architects and designers attempt to intervene? Some time ago, I worked as an expedition photographer for an archaeological dig on the fabled island of Ithaca, Greece. We traveled, on a day off, to the village of Kioni. Above us, a pure, cobalt blue sky straight from the paint tube. Before us, rock outcroppings glowing in the afternoon amber of Greek sunlight. A...

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Two Week Charette: 1 of 2

07/28/12

Two Week Charette: 1 of 2

On a steamy Monday morning in July, over a dozen high school and college students took their seats in a Washington DC gallery just half a block from the Anacostia River. They’re here to participate in a two week-urban design charette. Following a brief presentation the students launched into questions about the proposed transformation of an existing freeway bridge into a pedestrian link and recreational destination. The tone of the discussion was occasionally rowdy, but the content was right on target, hitting all the major concerns that arose since this project began as an inspired pipe dream: how will it be funded, is there political will to see it built, how to ensure that foot traffic and access are adequate, how to deal with polluted river water, will there be gentrification and...

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From Human Ears to Chocolate Cityscapes

07/27/12

From Human Ears to Chocolate Cityscapes

NextFab Studio bills itself as “a membership-based, high-tech workshop and prototyping center– Philadelphia’s “gym for innovators.”  Members (individuals, companies, institutions) will be able to build their own 3D printers, for example, in the brand new facility underway in Southwest Center City, generating anything from a new human ear to a model chocolate cityscape. At 21,000 square feet, a former custom ironwork shop run by traditional craftsmen is being converted into dynamic space for sophisticated machinery, a chem lab, a microlab, laser engravers, vehicle lift, forklift, 14 foot ceilings, classrooms, large photo/video studio, private studios and more– a paradise for inventor/techno-geeks. But, if you're just a regular person with a dream, professional staffers...

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Places that Work: U.S. Botanic Gardens

07/27/12

Places that Work: U.S. Botanic Gardens

The United States Botanic Garden in Washington DC is a place that works because the greenhouses there stimulate all our senses. Transmitting experiences of a place through several senses is a central tenet of biophilic design. And at the Botanic Garden these pleasant experiences are due to much more than presence of plants. In fact, some of our best hospital rooms, workplaces, and other spaces are biophilicly designed, without including a single plant – although it’s always a great idea to include a few of them in any room. After all, research has linked leafy green vegetation has to creative thinking. Stepping into the Botanic Gardens’ greenhouse on a cool day is an intense experience.  The plants are visually powerful. Their colors, lines, shapes, and textures are varied...

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Representing Architecture

07/24/12

Representing Architecture

Image courtesy Storefront for Art and Architecture Storefront for Art and Architecture's current exhibition Aesthetics / Anesthetics, a challenge to the conventions of architectural representation, is the sort of idiosyncractic show the organization has become known for, gleefully picking apart architecture’s accepted canons and unwritten rules. This time, the targets are “certain representational devices that have become architectural clichés operating almost as placeholders or decorative elements of an architecture unable to draw itself … birds on beautiful skies, happy children with balloons, those axonometries” (from the show’s description). The core of the exhibition is a group of 30 drawings—including some that stretch the term “drawing” pretty...

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Patches of Green

07/23/12

Patches of Green

What makes a place memorable? How does it connect to its community? Why do people visit—and what makes them come back? We instinctively seek authenticity of locale. Landscape provides a logical instrument for creating authentic regional expressions of place.  While buildings are often standardized—whether for economy of scale, construction typology, or program—landscapes are adaptable. They offer enormous potential for unique environments that attract attention early and grow more beloved over time. They can and should reflect the special local/regional character, and visitors know it when they experience it. In Houston, for example, Discovery Green celebrates the city’s culture and indigenous Texas landscape. A joint-venture project between the non-profit Discovery Green...

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The Other Social Network

07/20/12

The Other Social Network

Sustainability is, by now, a well-embedded and highly visible part of public discourse. Buildings that breathe and cities that live are less science fiction than just plain science, and people are becoming more and more conscious of the impact their actions have on increasingly stressed ecosystems. But even with shifting mindsets and a host of technologies making it ever easier to build better buildings for the environment, designers still work hard to find solutions to the most fundamental design problem of all: how to design better buildings (or cities, landscapes, or products) for people. Public Architecture’s Open Space Strategy hopes to reclaim San Francisco’s urban space for people (rather than cars), and brings together designers and the community. Socially-conscious design...

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Book Review: Straphanger

07/18/12

Book Review: Straphanger

I’ll admit I was a little skeptical when I cracked open Taras Grescoe’s latest book Straphanger, which is both paean to public transportation and an evisceration of car culture. Living happily car-free in New York, I feared I might be the choir to the Montrealer’s preaching. But while the book—part history, part travelogue, and part manifesto—might not seem terribly radical to city-dwellers, Grescoe makes the argument for mass transit in a way you might not have heard before. In the course of writing Straphanger, Grescoe visited a dozen cities across the world and spent considerable time getting to know their transit systems, figuring out how and why they work (or don’t). After a short prologue in Shanghai, Grescoe starts his global commute in New York, where the subway...

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A Second Chance

07/16/12

A Second Chance

In 1969 Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, a tributary of Lake Erie that meanders through Akron and Cleveland, combusted into flames after years of pollution and waste accumulated along its shorelines. While this was not the first time the river caught on fire, it ignited the nation’s attention and inspired significant environmental action, including the creation of our Clean Water Act, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Nearly forty years later, Lake Tai, China’s third largest freshwater lake, was engulfed in a mat of blue-green algae large enough to be seen from space. The toxic bloom left 2 million people without drinking water for a week. Within the last decade, Lake Tai has been overwhelmed by pollution from rapid development, harmful...

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Urban Microcenters

07/15/12

Urban Microcenters

In 2010, according to the Living Planet Report, 3,500 million people lived in urban areas and estimates project a doubling of that number, to 6,300 million people by 2050. In Mexico, an alarming growth is taking place in our major cities: Guadalajara City is comingling with municipalities such as El Salto, Tlajomulco de Zuñiga, Tlaquepaque, Tonalá, and Zapopan. Monterrey City is conjoing with municipalities such as Apodaca, García, General Escobedo, Guadalupe, Juárez, Santa Catarina, San Nicolás de los Garza, and San Pedro Garza García. And Mexico City, which has a crushing total of 56 municipalities, that will  impact its Metropolitan Area: Chimalhuacán, Ecatepec de Morelos, Atizapán de Zaragoza, Tlalnepantla de Baz, Coacalco de Berriozábal, Ixtapaluca, Tultitlán,...

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Icon or Eyesore? Part 2: Stakeholder Equilibrium

07/11/12

Icon or Eyesore? Part 2: Stakeholder Equilibrium

        The sleek structures of the International Style, symbols of corporate America’s innovative modernity, are turning 50. These buildings are favored by the real estate community and accepted by the public. But the same is not true for the architecturally aggressive Brutalist style of the 1960s and ’70s, more typically understood as symbols of America’s institutional durability. At the time they were designed and constructed, colleges and universities—as well as municipal, state, and federal governments–viewed poured-in-place concrete as a symbol of permanence and institutional longevity. The sculptural possibilities of the material seemed unlimited for a new generation of designers, but the public’s...

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Common Boston Common Build: 3

07/09/12

Common Boston Common Build: 3

Why would someone pay to work round the clock for three straight days, toiling in makeshift workspaces on temporary installations? Thirty-two people enlisted to do just that in this year’s Common Boston Common Build. Some were drawn by the thrill of competition. Others came out of a desire to connect and contribute to community.  But CBCB offers competitors an opportunity beyond mere sweat and skill: the chance for anyone to be a “designer.” Artist Janet Echelman and Metropolis magazine contributing editor Ken Shulman view the CBCB project gallery at the BSA Space Courtesy Julie Chen People of all backgrounds and experience levels participate in the competition, with results that showcase dynamic partnerships drawing on multiple disciplines....

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Places That Work: Hearths

07/06/12

Places That Work: Hearths

Even in our high tech age, hearths continue to enhance our experience of the rooms where they appear. The psychological power of a glowing, cracking fire safely tucked into a generous niche endures even though we no longer depend on its heat and light. When the fire is out, fireplaces can still provide a psychological boost. Their very presence in a room evokes positive associations. Even in the tropics or in rooms with central heating, nothing seems to communicate “security” and “comfort” as quickly or as reliably as a hearth. This is why they’re found in hotel lobbies, sidewalk cafés, and other public spaces that are trying to communicate feelings of “welcome” and “hospitality”. When the fireplaces we encounter glow with fire, watching the gyrating flames can...

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The Humble Southern Hammock

07/05/12

The Humble Southern Hammock

An American icon, the Adirondack or ‘Westport,’ chair was born from what I believe all good design comes from: simplicity, necessity, and function. Years after its humble invention by a carpenter in rural New York it still epitomizes the celebration of the outdoors in the Northeastern states and is being reproduced by manufacturers everywhere, and sold by many including L.L. Bean, Pottery Barn, and the like. Its influence can be found across the country now, but another timeless American icon will begin to rival its popularity as time passes. We, in the Southeast, have our own iconic piece of furniture. It has similar origins as the Adirondack in that it, too, exists because of a need for functionality. I submit that the rope hammock will be the next great, every-man American...

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Examining contemporary life through design, architecture, interior design, product design, graphic design, crafts, planning, and preservation.