Saturday, August 20, 2011
Paul Newman on Urbanism
AND he gets it all right. More CIVITAS videos here.
Sunday, August 07, 2011
American Summer (Travels With My iPhone)
FROM THE TOP:
- The porch on the sculptor Augustus St. Gauden's house in Cornish, New Hampshire.
- The porch on St. Gauden's studio in Cornish. Just down the hill is a swimming hole in a shady glen.
- The porch on architect Charles Platt's house in Cornish.
- Platt's porch.
- Platt's porch.
- (Below) The vies from th porch is across this garden to the Connecticut Rver Valley.
Before we had air conditioning, those who could left the city in the summer. With a book to write, I thought July and August would be a good time to get out of Manhattan, and I rented a cheap room in the Berkshires. I haven't had the air conditing on since the nation-wide heat wave broke, and even then I only turned it on a few times during the afternoon. By the time the sun went down the windows were always open. Many nights here have been 20° cooler than in Manhattan.
In the morning I walk or ride up a decent-sized hill to a pond with a beach. I have yet to take a swim, but I think I'm going to start investigating swimming holes.
Friday, August 05, 2011
Architects & Bureaucrats Say the Darndest Things
I used to write funny blog posts about Modernists earnestly arguing for a double standard in architecture. But that's been going on for so long that the humor fades. It's bad enough that architects and academics make racist comments about New Urbanism, but what's worse is that they operate in a milieu where even that doesn't sound outrageous.
The latest comes from CABE, the British Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. CABE is what the English call a "quango" - a "quasi non-governmental organization" that gets some government funding and frequently speaks with governmental authority. CABE's governmental charter is to promote architecture and urbanism for the public good.
One of the good things about the London 2012 Olympics is the realisation that we have a set of buildings produced not by Quinlan Terry, Robert Adam, John Simpson but by Hopkins, Hadid, Populous, Make, Heneghan Peng et al. None of it endorsed by the Prince of Wales.
The first group contains the names of prominent traditional British architects whose work is frequently judged by CABE. The second group contains the names of prominent Modernist firms whose work is frequently judged by CABE. Reminder: the statement was made by the Chairman of CABE.
A group of traditional architects called TAG responded with a letter complaining that Finch goes against the government's official policy, which is to judge quality of design rather than style. (You can see the letter after the jump.) Finch's response in the Architect's Journal shows how far he stands from public opinion, let alone the public good:
Far from apologising to this self-selecting group of polemicists, I suggest that they issue an apology to me for their intemperate language and inappropriate demands, best described as bad manners.
Meanwhile, the Chair of CABE's parent organization, the Design Council, said it was okay because CABE's Chair was speaking personally, not as Chair of CABE (in an article in the Architects' Journal). Both seemingly felt it was okay that he had professionally insulted architects who appear before him.They also forgot that the year before CABE and Finch had taken the opposite position.
In 2010, when CABE's funding was being cut back, Prince Charles suggested that his Foundation for the Built Environment take over some of the planning decisions made by CABE. Finch said the foundation would not able to serve the wider public interest owing to what he saw as its bias towards particular forms of architecture and urban planning.
Stylistic preferences will make it more difficult for certain building types to win planning approval. The public interest is better served by concentrating on the quality of a piece of architecture rather than style which can come down to superficial visual appearance. It comes down to whether their advice would be independent and disinterested and they obviously have a stylistic preference.
Ignoring the double standard, there is still an important point to be made about the criteria for judgement. Finch made his judgements on the basis of architectural style: Britain's best traditional architects are all bad, in his opinion, because they don't design in the only style that he likes (i.e., Modernism). While the Prince's Foundation makes its judgements on the basis of urban design principles and the market. People at the Foundation like Hank Dittmar, the American Chief Operating Officer, have no problem with Modernist buildings if they work in context and if people want to buy them. Tower-in-the-parking-lot designs like the one below that work against walkable, sustainable cities they have problems with.
Finch's bias is nothing more or less than a common outcome of an architectural education.It does not represent public opinion, which likes both traditional and modernist designs.
Thursday, August 04, 2011
THE ALWAYS ERUDITE Calder Loth wrote about Classical examples of the triumphal arch motif on The Classicist Blog. I responded with these notes:
Graduates of the Ecole des Beaux Arts frequently used triple triumphal arches to announce important public buildings. In New York see the Metropolitan Museum, Grand Central Terminal and the main branch of the New York Public Library. Many American cities have examples. In Washington, I think of examples in which the arch was a little more downplayed, as at Union Station and the Pan-American Union.
The Washington Square Arch in New York was originally part of a small tradition of temporary monuments in the city. Built across 5th Avenue 5 blocks north of Washington Square in plaster and wood for the Centennial of President Washington's New York Inauguration, it was so popular that it was rebuilt in marble in the square, which was already named for Washington.
A temporary monument that was not rebuilt was the Dewey Arch. I have a large photo of it online here in a photo that also shows Stanford White's Madison Square Garden in the background. A large photo of the Washington arch, still open to traffic, is online here.
Ponzi, ponzi, ponzi (The Way We Build Now)
We shipped most of our manufacturing jobs to China to get Always Low Prices. China extended us credit by buying our national debt.
We built bigger and bigger exurban McMansions to hold all the cheap stuff we bought from China. Countrywide and Wall Street invented guaranteed-to-fail financial instruments so that everyone could buy a new McMansion with no credit check and no money down.
We built bigger and biggers roads between the exurban McMansions and the Big Box stores so that we could be the Big Box personal delivery system for all the new stuff. China bought the bonds to pay for the roads.
We bought bigger and bigger gas guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks to drive back and forth between the McMansions and the Big Box stores and to carry all the stuff in. Detroit was required to improve the gas mileage of the cars they made, but SUVs and trucks didn't count.
Exxon-Mobil-Gulf used Federal subsidies to make record profits at the same time they increased our national debt by sending dollars to Middle Eastern countries that used it to pay terrorists to work against us.
Wall Street speculators drove up oil prices. Tens of thousands of people who "drove to price" in their leased gas guzzlers to buy exurban McMansions could no longer pay their no-credit-check mortgages. The guaranteed-to-fail mortgage ponzi scheme took its first fatal blow.
Millions who saw their lives fall apart joined the Tea Party, which said that if Obama lowered taxes we could get the housing market going again.
Housing and highways are not exportable. We need products we can sell to the rest of the world. Thank God for Steven Jobs and his jobs. But he manufactures everthing in Asia too.