Point of View

The METROPOLIS Blog

June 2012

Valencia's Green River

06/30/12

Valencia's Green River

Valencia’s Green River, Photography by Brian Phelps. Bold ideas are easy, implementing them is hard. This is particularly true as cities around the world want to use their landscape infrastructure to address the issues they face. How can interventions be woven into the existing urban fabric? Beyond simply mustering the financial resources or political will, one must seek opportunities to carefully insert or adapt landscape systems to the constraints of established urban communities. New York’s High Line, Atlanta’s Beltline, and Madrid’s RIO project all relied on abandoned or superseded rail or highway infrastructure to thread linear landscapes through the hearts of old cities. Valencia, on the other hand, relied on a crisis, and in the words of Rahm Emanuel, "You never...

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Common Boston Common Build: 2

06/29/12

Common Boston Common Build: 2

The Fenway Victory Gardens hosted this year’s Common Boston Common Build as the site partner and client. A patchwork of plots tucked into a seven-acre corner of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace, the Gardens were built during World War II on a marsh filled in with excavations from the subway extension in nearby Kenmore Square. The semi-private Victory Gardens and the public park in which they’re situated are a vast and highly utilized public space within a dense urban environment; this interplay brings hosts of challenges involving issues of access, security, identity and competing cultures. Snapshot of the Kick-Off. Mennonno Orients a Participant to the Garden. Aerial photo of the 7-acre site is shown in projection.  Courtesy Julie Chen...

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Common Boston Common Build: 1

06/28/12

Common Boston Common Build: 1

Convincing clients about the benefits of progressive design can be difficult; convincing a skeptical public to embrace an unusual design can be almost impossible. This is certainly the case in Boston. A famous tell-tale example is I.M. Pei withdrawing his proposal to build a glass pyramid near Harvard Square for the Kennedy Library, because Cambridge residents objected to its “clashing” with local architecture. It ended up in front of the Louvre. A hard-hat tour of Renzo Piano’s addition to the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum during the Common Boston Festival 2011 Courtesy Benai Kornell How can we bridge this divide? A skill that should set architects apart is our ability to think creatively and long-term about our physical environment. We should...

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Marvelous Interventions

06/26/12

Marvelous Interventions

Rogers Marvel Architects, Princeton Architectural Press, 2011 Buildings, adaptations, and public spaces are three different architectural categories, right? According to Rogers Marvel Architects’s (RMA) trisected monograph, published last year by Princeton Architectural Press, they seem to think so too. In reality, however, their projects aren’t so easily dragged and dropped. Working almost exclusively in New York City, the firm’s projects serve to enhance the existing urban fabric, making the introduction by Michael Sorkin fitting. Like slivers (in New York, everything’s a sliver) set into the streetscapes, from Harlem, down to the Financial District, and over the East River in Williamsburg, their projects create necessary public spaces for citizens. Whether the firm poured the...

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Icon or Eyesore? Part 1: Introduction

06/22/12

Icon or Eyesore? Part 1: Introduction

          Modernist buildings have been under attack in the U.S. for years now. We’re reminded of this fact every day as our team at Bruner/Cott & Associates works to keep an entire period of architecture from being lost in Boston, our hometown. Photo: Bruner/Cott Holyoke Center, Harvard University (Josep Lluis Sert, completed 1961) News of the recent thwarted attempt--for the moment, at least—to demolish Paul Rudolph’s Brutalist masterwork, the Orange County Government Center in Goshen, New York, underscored for us the fact that important works of mid-twentieth century modern building design is, often, only one vote away from oblivion. We consider ourselves pioneers in adaptive use and aficionados of...

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The Adventure of a Straw-bale Building

06/21/12

The Adventure of a Straw-bale Building

Today as I was serving breakfast tacos I talked to a customer about Community Rebuilds. She is a regular at the saloon where I work. Her name is Lisa and she has big arm muscles, which she usually displays by cutting the sleeves off of her tee shirts. While making small talk about the weather, jobs, errands, we also chatted about where we’ve been and then Moab came up. “What were you doing in Moab?” Lisa asked. “Well, I worked at a goat creamery for six months and then a non-profit that builds straw bale houses for low-income families,” I answered. This kind of information is often followed by raised eyebrows and a drawn out “woooowww,” or a short, punctuated, “really.” Lisa gave me both. “So you know how to build straw bale houses now.” Not a question, a...

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Learning from Wright

06/11/12

Learning from Wright

Are historic design trends coming back to the workplace? It’s impossible to generalize, but one thing is sure:  In Frank Lloyd Wright’s SC Johnson Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin, with its neat rows of desks, we can’t see a private office, just as these inner sanctums are missing in many of today’s offices. And although the rows of desks faced the same direction at SC Johnson, they were simple desks and returns. Today we might call this design a modified bench. The SC Johnson desks were not the typical benches by today’s definition, where collaboration and bringing people together is the aim of the furniture. Nevertheless, Wright’s grouping is modern in that it makes the great room flexible, while maximizing real estate potential....

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The Need for Communication

06/07/12

The Need for Communication

What does it mean to tell the story of landscape architecture? Of design, generally? And what about the stories behind the designs of all of the projects underway worldwide? The aftermath of a great project can unfortunately be a resounding silence: the metaphorical gates open, the space is unveiled, the construction teams leave the site, and then a few leaves fall. When people use new spaces and places in the urban setting, how do we tell the story of the creation of landscapes beyond launch day? Beyond signage? About the designers, architects, planners and people behind the projects? In this interview, I join Amanda Walter and Holly Berkley, co-authors of the recently released book, Social Media In Action, to talk about the need for communication in landscape architecture and...

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Places that Work: A music store on Michigan Avenue

06/04/12

Places that Work: A music store on Michigan Avenue

Sometimes the places that work are places that shouldn’t work at all. The Sherry-Brener musical instrument store on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago is one of these. The shop is stuffed with merchandise; it’s small and gets almost no daylight. It is, however, a wonderful place to be, at least for shoppers. And the staff is always pleasant; this tells me that the Sherry-Brener is either a good place to be for hours at a time or the employees are good actors. I suspect the former. The relaxing colors, the visible wood grain surfaces, and the dim light all contribute to bringing the stress level down and the friendly factor up. The tiny space feels homey. Its feeling of domesticity is enhanced by the furnishings, the occasional sounds of instruments being played, and the curved...

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