Friday, July 28, 2006
I Heart Le Corbusier
IT'S TRUE. He was The Man while I was growing up. And I did go to architecture school. So I've been to quite a few buildings by Corb: I even studied in one for three years. Here are some travel tips if you're interested in seeing some of his work.
My favorites were Ronchamp, the square du Docteur Blanche and the Villa Savoye. The worst I saw was either the Unité d'Habitations in Berlin or the couvent de La Tourette. It's almost as bad a rural French convent as its American copy was as the Boston City Hall.
The photo above is me at the Unité d'Habitations in Marseille: I am the Modulor Man, precisely to the inch. If you go to Marseilles, don't do what I did as a young architecture student, which was to go straight from the train station to the Unité. There are a hundred better sights in Marseilles. Don't miss the bouillabaise.
Le Corbusier may have had more bad urban design ideas than anyone else in history (Paolo Soleri is probably the runner-up). Many of his architecture ideas weren't very good, either. But when he was at his best he managed to make his ideas look so good that a trip to his best buildings can be very rewarding.
If you go to see the Carpenter Center at Harvard and you don't see Harvard Yard, Harvard Square, the River Houses and the neighborhoods west of the Square, you're a brainwashed architect who's missing one of America's best small cities and best campuses.
What if? On this day in 1914 ...
My first reaction was "nonsense!" I'm a fervent democrat (small d democrat and registered big d Democrat) who thinks humanity's march towards democracy is our main measure of progress. But once you start thinking about this, it becomes like one of those "What if the Nazis had won?" novels.
It all started on this day in 1914, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia. Soon, we had the Allied Powers facing the Central Powers in World War 1. The democratic powers against the German Reich, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. When we won, we deposed the German Kaiser and the Austrian Emperor and helped the destabilization of the Ottoman Sultan.
What if after the war we hadn't imposed on Germany such an abrupt, overnight change from the Kaiser and the largest aristocracy in the world to full democracy, leading to the instability of the 1920s? It's reasonable to say that Hitler never would have come to power, and if that's true, 6 million Jews would have been saved from his Final Solution.
What if we hadn't destabilized Central Europe, which became known as Eastern Europe after Hitler conquered it and his Russian foes took it back for themselves? Is there another scenario under which the Soviet Union would have imprisoned Eastern Europe for 45 years?
We didn't depose the Sultan, but we defeated and weakened his empire, and made it easier for the 20th century forces of nationalism to overtake it. Until that time, the Ottoman Empire had encouraged religious diversity, and declared Muslims, Christians and Jews "brothers." Therefore, it didn't allow religious states, and wouldn't have allowed the establishment of a Jewish state, as opposed to a Jewish community, in 1947.
Of course reality is more complex than this few hundred word summary. But we only have to look at our overthrow of Saddam Hussein to see how quickly unintended and unexpected consequences can follow. If we had not broken the balance of power between Iraq and Iran, Hezbollah would not now be firing Iranian missiles at Israel.
Nota Bene, before the comments come in: I fully support Israel's right to exist.
Thursday, July 27, 2006
Beirut Baghdad Babylon — One reason to hate us so much (with one hectare skypark)
A STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS RAMBLE: Most Americans don't understand Middle Eastern politicis and culture. Right now it's looking like you'd have to include most of the Bush administration in that group: we won the Iraq War, but we're looking like fools in the Iraq Occupation. President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld told us that Iraqi oil would pay for everything within 3 to 6 months. Iraqi oil is mainly paying for terrorist activity.
There must be some logic to the current Hezbollah attack on Israel. But how many of us understand it, or why so many support a group that implants itself in populated areas before bombarding Israel, knowing that they are dooming those around them to a violent death? Or understand what seems to us like the 14th century fundamentalism behind the attacks on the World Trade Center* and the London underground?
One thing I know is that in my field, architecture and urban design, we (the West) seem to be selling them the shallowest, most materialistic Modernism possible. It is an empty but full frontal attack on their culture and their fundamentalism, and who can 't understand being angry about that?
Look at our latest contributions to the Middle East (below). It looks like a few New York housing projects with the new Freedom Tower from the World Trade Center - first Al Qaeda blows up the original, then we sell the replacement to Dubai, the place with the "world's only seven star hotel" (that's where they paid Western tennis stars to play on a helipad hundreds of feet in the air). I've never been there, but they're sure not making it look like a place where I'd want to go anymore. It looks like a place that has lost its cultural compass. (Update: "The Biggest Building Site On Earth")
Radical Muslims thought the old WTC was a symbol of Mammon.* What do they think now that we've built a copy of the new one near Mecca?
* "Riches are called by the name of a devil, namely Mammon, for Mammon is the name of a devil, by which name riches are called according to the Syrian tongue."
"In the 2005 Warner Bros. motion picture Constantine (based on the main character from the DC Vertigo graphic novels Hellblazer), Mammon is the name of the Antichrist, the son of Satan. Mammon's goal was to cross over to the mortal plane using the Spear of Destiny in order to bring a worse dominion to the world than that of his father in Hell."
The most populous Muslim state is Indonesia, in Southeast Asia. Next door in Singapore, the the Las Vegas Sands Company has just announced this monument to Mammon:
Marina Bay Sands is a new type of urban place that integrates the Waterfront Promenade with a grand, multi-leveled retail arcade combining civic space, shopping, indoor and outdoor spaces endowed with city skyline views, daylight and plant life, providing an abundance and variety of activities. It is a place that is vibrant and dynamic, a place that transforms from hour to hour, from day to night, and is evocative of the great urban places. It is here that the imaginings of a global city become a reality. Marina Bay Sands, to be open in 2009, will feature three 50-story hotel towers containing 1,000 rooms each, crowned by a two acre Sky Garden bridging across the towers, offering 360-degree views of the city and the sea, outdoor amenities for the hotel such as jogging paths, swimming pools, spas, and gardens; an iconic Arts and Sciences Museum on the promontory; one-million square feet of integrated waterside promenade and shopping arcade; a state-of-the art one-million square foot convention center; two 2,000-seat theaters; a casino; and a 4,000 car garage.
It is called "Singapore's first integrated resort," which means it combines three hotels, a casino, and two shopping malls. It is scaleless, ugly and anti-human. Soon after it's built, it will show up in Matrix IV as an example of the dystopian future computers have built for us. And what is the banana-shaped park in the sky?
Something fishy in the state of Häagen-Dazs?
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
New York Cheap Eats (sort of)
HOT OFF THE PRESSES, the New York magazine list of inexpensive eats, ranked 1 to 101. I've been to about a fifth of them, and can tell non-New Yorkers that you might not think they're all inexpensive — like Lupa (#20), which New York calls "moderate" in price. It is moderate, compared to the other Mario Batali restaurants. But if I remember correctly, our dinner there was close to $100 for two, which isn't like eating at Totonno's pizzeria. (I've had takeout from the one in our neighborhood: I've never been to the original in Coney Island.)
For a cheaper Batali restaurant, try Otto Enoteca Pizzeria (#24). It's in between a pizzeria and and Lupa in price, especially if you stay up front at the bar for the pizza and excellent wine selection. But less expensive than some of these restaurants is to go for a lunch special at a good restaurant. In my neighborhood, there's Centolire, with a $24.50 lunch (last year it was $20.05), and Antonucci's, with a $16 lunch.
THE GIAMBINO! A-Rod and Giambi have been cold lately (you may have heard about A-Rod), but the Yanks have been playing well: if they win tonight, they'll have a .600 record. When Cano, Matsui and (?) Sheffield are back they might even have to be favored to pass the Red Sox. The ESPN Power Rankings already have them second to the Tigers, with the Red Sox third — after being swept by the Twins, the Pale Hose fell to fourth. Why are the Twins only sixth?
Anyway, 4 runs in the 8th put the Yanks in the lead, but an over-used Proctor gave the lead right back after Farnsworth couldn't pitch because of a back problem. But Jeter got on, and then — The Giambino hits a home run, Mo closes and the Yankees win! A-Rod hit one too, plus a single. Are the three and four hitters back on track?
We need George Costanza to talk to those Texas bastards.
• Randy Johnson has come to grips with the fact that he is no longer a Cy Young candidate who can blow away any hitter in baseball. Just as importantly, he's realized that he can be a pitcher who holds the other team to 2 or 3 runs a game, and that's good enough to win 20 games a year.
The question is, what will happen if the Yankees have to play a team like Minnesota in the playoffs? Johnson and Moose can not pitch a shutout most of the time, like Santana and Liriano. And it was that sort of thinking that led them to trade for Johnson to begin with: he was supposed to be the dominating left who would overcome Schilling in game one.
• In 7 games and 9 innings since the All Star break, Scott Proctor has given up 3 hits and 0 runs. He was like this at the beginning of the season and then got tired.
And this time?
• After 99 games, Red Sox rookie reliever Jonathan Papelbon leads the league in saves with 23 and has a 0.53 era. But even if he keeps it up for the rest of the year, Papelbon might finish no higher than fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting, behind three pitchers. Twins rookie Francisco Liriano has 12 wins and 2 losses and a 1.93 era, and is one of the main reasons why the Twins went 34 and 8 in their last 42 games and are now tied with Chicago in the Wild Card race. While Detroit rookie Justin Verlander (13 - 4, 2.69) is one of the reasons why the Twins are still 8.5 games behind the Tigers. And Jered Weaver,* who's back from the DL, is 7 and 0 with a 1.15 era for the California Angels.
When was the last time either league had 4 rookie pitchers like this? Five, if you want to count Red Sox rookie Jonathan Lester, who's 5 and 0 with a 3.04 era. Lester and Liriano are lefties.
* Jered's older brother Jeff started the season with the Angels 1 and 7 (7.30 era). When he was later traded to the Cardinals, Jered replaced him on the roster.