lundi, novembre 23, 2009

On Community and Architecture (dot com)

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The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community
by Peter Katz, I have been carrying around this book for weeks.

Many years ago (2001), while working at Half Price Books 007, I ran across a new book about a couple who lived for a year (the first year) in Celebration Florida. Their book (Celebration, FL: Living in Disney's Brave New Town)is not an entirely favorable review of the planned community. After flipping though, I was left with what could be called a seething hatred for this type of development. When I think of New Urbanism, I think of what is, literally, Disney World. Maybe not Utopia if you are the guy under the very hot Mickey Mouse Costume, but fun for the kids. After reading Franz and Collins book I got the impression that Celebration was New Urbanism and that New (sub)Urbanists are much like my loved ones. They have good intentions, if not good taste. They work. They drive. They drive the economy. They are trying to be conscience parents. They value the American Way and seem to want to create a facsimile of what might be remembered as simpler times. So...taking a look at Peter Katz's book, I was already trying to suppress my Celebration nausea and loathing for everything that is wrong with rabid consumerism, suburban sprawl and neo-colonial architecture.

Katz's book, published in 1994, is a collection of essays and case studies. The case studies are divided into A)Establishing the Urban Pattern and B)Reconstructing the Urban Fabric. The division represents a philosophical difference. One an effort to make higher density suburbs (Celebrate!) the other to create "infill" housing within city limits. To the book's credit, there is a final critique by Vincent Scully which points out some of the flaws in exclusionary and/or cost prohibitive commuter housing developments.

Establishing the Urban Pattern looks at Seaside, Laguna West, Kentlands, South Brentwood Village, Bamberton, Windsor, Communications Hill, Rosa Vista, A New Village in the suburbs, and Wellington. Reconstructing the Urban Fabric looks at Cite International, Downtown Hayward, Rivera Beach, Rio Vista West, Lake West, Downcity Providence, Orange Tree Courts, Atlantic Center, Mashpee Commons, Playa Vista, Jackson-Taylor, Highland District, Clinton, and Downtown Los Angeles.

The preface written by Katz, takes us back to 1991 when Kats saw a movement taking shape that some were calling Neo-traditional. Time Magazine wrote an extensive article on Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Peter Calthorp. Katz reminds us of our history with out mentioning segregation. He mentions the early formation of towns along rivers, the development of industry, crowding, crime and disease, and car culture without mentioning white flight or red-lining. He mentions the cots of sub-urban sprawl and the broken bonds of community caused by the "suburban paradigm". He mentions the Geography of Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler. New Urbanism, Katz says will return us to the Higher Quality of pre-WWII building and life. High Quality Apartment Buildings, town houses, boarding houses, duplexes and quadraplexes of 1900-1920 are the cure for what ails us in 1994.

Katz speak of the new urbanists as a mass, class or school:

"Far from suggesting that we turn our backs on the benefits of modern living, the return to community that they advocate may, in fact, be empowered by new technology."

Katz mentions diminished global resources, Penturbia by economist Jack (LES-singer?) and advocates telecommuting.

I wonder how this 1990's movement relates to our "Housing Crises" housing crash in 2008?

mardi, novembre 10, 2009

Mexico, Follies, and Multi-family Housing

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Okay I am here in the library of the Spitzer School of Architecture picking out books that look interesting. I found one on Architctural Follies in America, one related to Olafur Eliasson and Kjetil Thorsen Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2007, One on the Patios and Gardens of Mexico, and Three on Multi Family Housing.

30 Books in 30 Days Parts 7, 8, 9 & 10

Architectural Follies in America (or Hammer, Saw-tooth & Nail) by Clay Lancaster was published in 1960 by Charles E. Tuttle Company of Rutland Vermont. Broken into 13 illustrated chapters, AF in A reminds me of the set of children's encyclopedias my brother had as a child in the 70's. The table of contents speaks volumes and reads as follows:

I. The Folly Tradition (Tower of Babel, The Villa Palagonia, Desert de Retz, The Palace at Brighton, The "European Palaces" of Yuan Ming Yuan, Castles of Ludwig II, Follies in America)

II. Follies of Old Massachusetts (Brown's Folly, Dexter's FOlly, Harris' Folly)

III. Follies of the Early Republic in Pennsylvania (The Marble Palace, Picnic House)

IV. Archaisms (Pitts' Folly, Wedding Cake House)

V. Oriental Exoticisms (Trollope's Bazaar, Iranistan, Longwood)

VI. Built upon the Rivers (Floating Palaces ant the Inland Watercourse, Steamboat Gothic)

VII. Geo-Forms (Barrel Houses, Corners Plentiful, Fowler's Folly and the Home for All, The Octagon Mode, Hexagon House)

VIII. The Bubbles (Chadwick's Folly, Wright's Folly)

IX. Monument to the West's Wild Past (Schieffelin's Tombstone)

X. Ivory Towers of Babel (Palmer's Castle, Linden Towers, The Winchester Mystery House)

XI. Cereal and Pachyderm Architecture (Corn Palaces, Elephant Hotels)

XII. Importations, Integrations and Imitations (Imported Houses in America, Citadel of All Religions, The Leaning Tower of Niles)

XIII. Shoddy Follies: Originals of the 20th Century (Bottle Houses, Carvilles, Japanese Aeorplane Bungalow)

I first heard of Olifur Eliasson a couple of years ago when PS1 had an interesting show almost simultaneously there were waterfalls placed around Manhattan (or at least one in the East River). Here is a book about a spiral pavillion in a park in London sponsored by Bloomberg. The same company (I believe) founded by Michael Bloomberg who recently won re-election in NYC mayoral race. Apparently the Serpentine Gallery has commissioned pavillions every year since 2000. There is a nice interview here along with construction photos, photos of previous pavillions, and references to other spiral shaped architecture. (Wright's Guggenheim, Koolhass library, Tatlin's Model of the Monument to the Third International, Bruegel's painting The Tower of Babel)and photos of the completed project which apparently has a circular opening in the roof.

Multi-family Housing: Treating The Existing Housing Stock by Robert Kolodny was printed in 1981 by the National Association of Housing and Redevelopement Officials 2600 Virginia Ave. N.W. Washington D.C. 20037.It's thirteen chapters include: The Importance of Multi-family Rental Housing as a Residence Type and Housing Resource, A Thumbnail Sketch of the Nation's Multi-family Rental Housing Inventory, Lessons from the Treatment of Troubled Publicly-assisted Housing (Advisory Services for Better Housing NYC) and Tenant Ownership (Co-operative Conversion of NYC Tenements). This book is meant for people who design and run housing revitalization and neighborhood revitalization programs. Kolodny points out that there are Social advantages to density housing and much to be said for mixed economy and mixed pattern of tenure in housing.

Apartment Houses by Joseph H. Abel and Fred N. Severud was published by progressive Architecture Library in 1947 and addresses Architectural Design; Structural Design; and Heating, Elevators, Landscaping. Full of diagrams, photos of Corbu style towers and Miami Hotel style buildings Apartment Housesgives a good idea of what Architects were thinking/doing in the 1940's. (We can see now which ones have stood the test of time.)

Apartments, Townhouses and Condominiums edited by Elisabeth Kendall Thompson of Architectural Record was published by McGraw-Hill Book Company 1958 (under the title Apartments and dormitories) and then again in 1975. It covers high and low rise building as well and designing for high and low incomes. This book is verily bursting with b7w photos and diagrams of all kins of MFD's.

Patios and Gardens of Mexico by Patricia O'Gorman (1979, Architectural Book Company)is also full of great B7W photos of fantastic gardens and courtyards that make Mixican Architecture so great.

samedi, novembre 07, 2009

Taste of Cherry

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Months ago, University of Nebraska sent me a list of books to review.

They had a number of non-fiction books related to Native Americans of which I chose one, even though the focus of my study lately has been the history of what is now known as New York City. Instead, I chose titles of fiction and poetry that for one reason or another stood out--a charcoal colored eyelid on the cover, an intriguing premise. The first book to arrive was Taste of Cherry. The picture on the back reminded me of a quiet, impeccably (impeccably, impeccably, impeccably) well-groomed girl I remember from elementary school. (I think her name was Larissa.)

Jealousy disclosure: Before attempting to criticize this collection of neatly packaged words, I feel I must disclose my subjectivity. By no means under-privileged (privileged, privileged, privileged), daughter of conservative land-grant-college graduates, I have happened to have arrived at the age of forty living in sub-standard housing with some regrets, no career, few friends who will take my calls and little in the way of funds and marketable skills.

Skepticism disclosure: I have developed a deep skepticism of given identities of artists and writers I have not personally known for many years. After reading a Michael Foucault passage on the subject, I have begun to refer to all unknown authors as Author Function (AF=Kara Candito), thereby circumventing the doubt that this is a single artist's work or the only identity of a given person.

That said, I am making some effort to suppress (suppress, suppress, suppress) my sense of jealousy/hatred for (to empathize with) a narrator who reminisces (reminisces, reminisces, reminisces) about New York hotels and taxis, trips to Sicily, Miami night clubs, stray cats on the ruins of Pompey, then sips hibiscus iced-tea in Egypt while a friend text-messages Brooklyn.

Like the poems of Charles Bukowski, Candito does not avoid disturbing images or themes. Unlike the poems of Charles Bukowski, the author does not have a consistant voice. The idenity of the narrator shifts more than a Liz Phair album. Perhaps this is because Candito is a professor and takes on identies of her students.

The collection is divided into three sections. The first simply titled, One, includes: Self Portrait with Ice Pick; La Bufera: Our Last Trip to Sicily; Floristic Elegy for the Year I Lived with You in Coconut Grove; Notes for a novice Flaneur; Postcard: I've Been Meaning to Write...; Egypt Journal:; The Poet's Condition; and Egypt Journal: Christmas at the Great Pyramid (Pyramid, Pyramid, Pyramid).

The second, subtitled Portraits, includes: Carnivale, 1934; Epic Poem Concerning the Poet's Coming of Age at Attis; Gilead Red; and Girl in the Grass

The third, Three, includes: Taste of Cherry; Barely Legal: Upon Finding My Father's Porn; A Necessary Fiction; He Was Only Half as Beautiful; California; Sleeping with Rene Magritte; Polarity; Strange Zippers: A Poem in Which the Heroine________; The Fitting; On the Occasion of our Argument During a VH1 Best Power Ballads Countdown; Last Happiness

I love the titles and have come to really like the book. In the later poems, the narrator seems (more mature?) less romantic than the earlier poems and the themes seem more substantial.

jeudi, novembre 05, 2009

Slow Urbanism

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I forgot to post a review yesterday so I'll try to do two now before six when Thom Mayne is scheduled to speak here at CCNY's school of Architecture.

30 Books in 30 days Parts 4 and 5: Slow Food and Christopher Alexander

Slow Food CCNY is one of the most popular CCNY related Clubs on FaceBook. This morning over breakfast I started reading a dollar book that has been sitting with the cookbooks in the hallway for a while. I think I thought it was a vegan cookbook at first. The title is SlowFoodAward Bologna 2000 for Defense of the Biodiversity by Cinzia Scaffidi and Corby Kummer. There is no table of contents, after a few pages about delicious food in Bologna, we jump right into a story about Nancy Jones, born in England in 1947 who was kicked out of the country for political reasons married a student from Africa and started a small dairy in Mauritania where milk was thought to neutralize the magical powers of the drinker.

There is something about the stories in this book that give one pause. Camel meat? Really? One might ask? I don't know if this story is true or if there really is an
delicious endangered population of cannibalistic fish called Pez Blanca that only lives in Lake Patzcuaro, thirty kilometers outside of the town of Morelia in the Mexican state of Michoacan and brings a high price at market. But I do believe that the French know how to make good cheese.

Slow Food seems to be a group or movement promoting the idea of scientists interacting through research studies and business ventures with indigenous peoples in the name of preserving ancient ways of life and of doing things in time honored ways. They seem not to be anti-capitalistic nor promoting socialism; rather, a kind kind of conservatism. The people recognized in this book (from Maori potato farmers farmers to Beekeepers and Haviar Harvesters in Turkey) seem to me, well intentioned, college educated folks who are tackling some complicated issues about economics, environments and culture and having a good time doing it.'s the table of contents at the end.

And now, for your reading pleasure an essay I wrote last week:

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction described a practical architectural system in a form that a theoretical mathematician or computer scientist might call a generative grammar.
The introduction to APL recommends that this is one half of a single work--Vol I-The Timeless Way of Building (TTWB) explaining the discipline and APL being a source book for putting the discipline into practice. Oddly, Vol. I is published two years after VOL II. These books are small, well-bound, poetically written and elegantly type set. It is no wonder that they have become cult classics amongst urban planners and archtiects.

"To you, mind of no mind in whom the timeless way was born."

Thus reads the inscription to TTWOB. Alexander and company recommend these as tools for creating a common language for communities. TTWOB reads like a Taoist mandate (low pressure, yet assertive) and is described within as a way of creating order out of nothing but ourselves. TTWOB has three main parts: The Quality, The Gate, and The Way. The Quality is described as a nameless quality, both objective and precise. This section deals with such topics as being alive, events, space and of course quality. The Gate is described as a gate made of language through which we may pass to practice the timeless way. The Gate deals with such matters as flowers and seeds, the power of language, sharing, evolution of a common language, and gradual improvement. The Way addresses shaping, process, repair, slow emergence and agelessness.

APL's three main sections (Towns, Buildings and Construction) are comprised of 253 numbered assertions, any of which seem debateable, arranged in decreacing order of size and related to one another at the beginings and ends of each assertion. Some of these are delightfully evocative and imply a way of life that is rich, wholesome, humane, and less capitalistic than socially responsable.

dancing in the street...necklace of community projects...housing in streets... gateways...high places...pools and streams...birth places...holy ground...common land...sleeping in public...animals...south facing outdoors...wings of light...cascading roofs...roof gardens...stair seats...communal eating...small work groups...rooms to rent...fruit trees...vegetable garden...sitting circle...sunny counter...secret overlooking life...good materials...orniment...different chairs...pools of light

Alexander (according to Wikipedia) is a note worthy chap born in Vienna in 1936 studied physics, mathematics at Cambridge University and received the first PhD in Architecture from Harvard. His doctoral work involved designing a computer program to analyze and create new environments. Alexander has influenced architecture through his writings and teachings more than his completed buildings. He now lives and works on Berkely, CA Titles attributed to Alexander include:

Notes on the Synthesis of Form (1964), Community and Privacy (1965), A city is not a tree (1965), The Atoms of Environmental Structure‎ (1967), A Pattern Language which Generates Multi-service Centers (1968), Houses Generated by Patterns (1969), The Oregon Experiment (1975), A Pattern Language, with Ishikawa and Silverstein (1977), The Timeless Way of Building (1979), The Linz Cafe (1981), The Production of Houses (1985), A New Theory of Urban Design (1987), Foreshadowing of 21st Century Art: The Geometry of Very Early Turkish Carpets (1993), The Mary Rose Museum (1995), The Nature of Order Book 1: The Phenomenon of Life (2004), The Nature of Order Book 2: The Process of Creating Life (2004), The Nature of Order Book 3: A Vision of a Living World (2004), The Nature of Order Book 4: The Luminous Ground (2003)

mardi, novembre 03, 2009

New Suburbanism, HOMES and Heidegger

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I have spent the past few hours reading about New Urbanism and A Critique of New Urbanism and several other essays for G. Hermanuz's Housing Theories class here at CCNY. I have become a fan of the group, Homemakers Organization for a More Egalitarian Society (HOMES). New Urbanism is a big subject that I am not ready to write about yet so I am posting a review I wrote a few weeks ago.

30 Books in 30 Days Part 3: Building-Dwelling-Heidegger

Martin Heidegger's Bauen Wohnen Denken (1951) translated by Albert Hofstadter as "Building Dwelling Thinking", is included in Harper and Row's (1971) Poetry, Language, Thought and reprinted as a HarperCollins Perennial Classic in 2001. Poetry, Language, Thought is a collection of seven writings which may in one way or another relate to art, poetry, thought and language but are more so are reflections on what it means to be human. These seven writings, originally formed as lectures are: "The Thinker As Poet" (Ausder Erfahrung des Denkens, 1947); "The Origin of the Work of Art" (Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes, 1935); "What Are Poets For?" (Wozu Dichter?, 1926); "Building Dwelling Thinking" (Bauen Wohnen Denken, 1951); "The Thing" (Das Ding, 1950); "Language (Die Sprache, 1950); "...Poetically Man Dwells..." (...dichterisch wohnet der Mensch..., 1951). Heidegger uses vivid architypical examples, repetition of assertions and etymology to explain modern concepts of Truth, Work, Being, Thing, and Beauty.

At the outset of "Building Dwelling Thinking", Heidegger asks, "What is it to dwell?" Then follows this question with a series of statements:

1. We attain dwelling by building. 2. Some buildings are not dwellings 3. All buildings are in the domain of our dwelling. 4. inhabit does not equal dwell.

In the English translation, this premise is left somewhat ambiguous. Is dwelling a noun and a verb here? Is building both noun and verb? Hofstadtler's English translation of Bauen Wohnen Denken leaves in many of the German words: Bauen, buan, bauen, Nachbar, Nachgebur, Nachgebauer, buri, beuren, beuron, bhu, beo, bin, ich bin, du bist, Gewohnte; but leaves off the articles: die, das, der; thereby reducing the distinction between noun and verb. This confusion creates some humor and perhaps is a bit poetic. M. Heidegger gives examples for buildings that are not dwellings the truck driver on the highway, the mill worker in the mill, the engineer in the power station. This meditation on the words dwell, dwelling, build, building go on for quite some time and define and re-define our understanding of house, home and what it means to live. Heidegger asks, "Is a modern house necessarily a dwelling...even if people take shelter there?"

5. Buildings that are not dwellings serve man's dwelling--are determined by man's dwelling. (Therefor...) 6. Dwelling is the end that presides over all building. 7. Building and dwelling are separate activities. (But..) 8. To build IS to dwell.

Hiedegger asks, "Who tells us this?" and answers, "Language." (language dominates man?) Who gives us the standard? He takes us to the roots of Germanic language to the Old English, High German word Baun, which, contrary to what one might think, he says means not to move about, but to stay, to remain in place. This strikes me as funny. I can almost see Heidegger pacing around as he makes this speach. He paints a picture of dwelling that lifts human existance from the mundane to the ritual, mystical and spiritual realm. Simultaneously he give an image of building that makes one think more of Jewish communes than Nazi Architecture.

9. Bauen=building German 10. buan=to dwell, to remain, to stay in place (Old English, High German) 11. bauen=to dwell 12. Nachbar=neighbor (German) 13. neahgebur=near dweller (Old English) 14. Nachgebur 15. Nachgebauer 16. buri, buren, beuren, beuron=dwelling, abode, place of dwelling (an assertion) 17. Our old word baun means on one hand to build and on the other hand to dwell. 18. We think of dwelling as an activity 19. bauen, buan, bhu, beo=bin, ich bin, du bist=to be

Heidegger asks, "What does it mean to be?"

20. Bauen also means to cherish, to protect. 21. To be human means both to be mortal and to be on earth; to till the soil and to cultivate the vine. 22. There is a difference between ship and temple building and this other type of dwelling, caring and cultivating. 23. Caring and cultivating is not creating something new but maintaining.

Heidegger speaks of the four fold--earth, sky, mortals, and the divinities. He identifies humans as mortals and defines mortality as both being capable of death and dwelling on the earth. He asks then, "In what way does building belong to dwelling?" Heidegger then goes on to meditate and very eloquently, raise-up the words and ideas of Bridge and Location arriving at Raum, Rum the German for Space which he describes as a clearing or a leaving room for something. He speaks of going to the door of the lecture hall and already being there. His words evoke images that create a mental space in the mind. But he makes a point to talk about specific places and things as well as these architypical places and things. He gives us Tikto the Greek for production, to bring forth and tec and techne, to produce or to let appear. He brings up an image of a farm house in the Black Forest and a coffin called "tree of the dead".

Finally, we are returned to the original questions of what is meant to dwell and what has building to do with dwelling. Heidegger touches on the subjects of homelessness only to say that lack of houses is not the problem. The perpetual problem is learning to dwell.

lundi, novembre 02, 2009

Form, Purpose and Tita

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Last Night, I returned home to over hear a discussion between Bernardo, my roommate and his girlfriend Kate that involved the mention of "...Thai food at home." I couldn't help but wonder where home was. Then after some commotion--the closing and opening of doors, some discussion about a cab...they chased down the cat (Tita), wrapped her in a towel and left. This cat gathering part happened while I was sitting at the kitchen table eating quiche. I haven't seen them (or the cat) since.

30 Books in 30 Days Part 2: Form and Purpose by Moshe Safdie and John Kettle (1980) Nimrod Press

Moshe Safdie is the Architect of Habitat '67, the innovative, terraced housing development build by the Canadian government for Expo '67 (Man and His World). I love the more-we-get-together, human optimism of Safdie and this book created for International Design Education Foundation, Aspen CO.

The book has six chapters (Design in Nature; The Indigenous Builders; The Sophisticated Builders; Art, Fashion and Style; City Fabric; and Contemporary Diagnosis) chalk full of B&W photographs illustrating design in nature and art. (A tree in summer and in winter; the bone structure of the wing of a vulture; cross section showing the internal spiral of a nautilus shell and revealing it regular growth; veins of a mulberry leaf; yeast bubbles in a loaf of bread; honeycomb; the iris of a human eye; a computer chip from a telephone; hillside dwellings in a village; public housing; Iranian domes, houses and pigeon towers; mosques; a man laying out the plan of his house on the ground;

There is a letter in the beginning written by Safdie to Phillip (Glass House/MoMA) Johnson expressing dismay with his AT&T building and the general direction of his work, as well as Johnson's reply. This effectively conveys the understanding of aesthetic difference between the two architects. I also found it interesting, if not suprising that Safdie references Christopher Alexander's The Oregon Experiment (1975), A Pattern Language (1977), A Timeless Way of Building (1979), and Community and Privacy (1963); as the ideas, aesthetics and concerns of Form and Purpose are not dis-similiar to those expressed in A Pattern Language. He also credits Francis Yates's The Art of Memory and Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word in the bibliography.

dimanche, novembre 01, 2009

30 Books in 30 Days

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It's November after All Hallows EVE...the day of the New York Marathon...the begining of Daylight savings time...two months left to redeem 2009 from the doldrums to which it may or may not hav sunk...I have decided to start getting up early and doing things...for example (I sort of borrowed and adapted this from Brian Lehrer's 30 issues in 30 days leading up to the mayoral elections.)I plan to review one book per day in November starting with this really fantastic book I have been carrying around and reading in the subways all fall...this book that I almost can't bear to return to the libray and I may have to go out and actually purchase.

"To know what you want to draw, you have to begin drawing."

Thirty Books in Thirty Days Part One: Writing About Writing About Art

This book is actually called A Short Guide to Writing About Art (Sylvan Barnet, Pearson-Longman, 8th ed. 2005) . As you may know there are several books with similiar titles. This one is the best-loaded with quotes by famous artists that (bely?) reveal the nature of Art with a capital A, useful writing advice and many well-timed and well-chosen illustrated writing samples. ASGTWAA is broken into 12 chapters with rather boring titles (Writing about Art, Analysis, Writing a Comparison, Writing An Entry in an Exhibition Catalog, Some Critical Approaches)followed by more interesting subheadings (economy, wordy beginnings, the sound of sense, the sense of sound)

Examples used tell the great story of Art. Some examples used in chapter 1, What Is Art? include Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty, Womanhouse, Mark Wallinger's photograph of a horse named: A Real Work of Art, an essay on art criticism by Auden, and a sample essay about Whistler (both artist and critic)and his painting of his mother turned into a U.S. postage stamp.

I opened it to the page on Unity as the one train was delayed this morning to be reassured of the simplicity of the fact that five hundred words is more or less five well developed paragraphs. To summarize the writing process: revise...revise...edit...have someone proof read/ read and revise until deadline)