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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Art-chitecture It's Not (Neither's the "Art")

posted by on October 22 at 8:00 AM

Nicolai Ourousoff gives Zaha Hadid a tongue-lashing for her complicity in this Chanel consumption-vomitorium in Central Park, designed to house artworks made in homage to a quilted Chanel bag.


That's just gross.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Free At Last

posted by on October 21 at 10:59 AM

Those dead telecommunication thingies have been removed from the top of King Street Station!
-2.jpg What a difference! The tower looks much, much better. It almost looks alert and handsome. But, still, why has the progress of this and other improvements been so slow? Slower than a snail. Slower than a glacier. So, so, slow.

Note: the images are by Bellen Drake.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Being Bold

posted by on October 13 at 12:48 PM

About the remodel of New York City's MAD building, which was designed by Brad Cloepfil, a principal of the Portland firm that designed the Seattle Art Museum expansion, Allied Works...

...New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote a week or so ago:

This is not the bold architectural statement that might have justified the destruction of an important piece of New York history. Poorly detailed and lacking in confidence, the project is a victory only for people who favor the safe and inoffensive and have always been squeamish about the frictions that give this city its vitality.

Nothing makes me more nervous than the confident call for bold architecture. Such a call has one meaning beneath (or sustaining) all other apparent and not apparent meanings: that a "bold architectural statement" is by nature (or in essence) alone good. But "bold" does not mean "good"; also, a building does not have to be controversial to be good; and finally, a building is not good just because it generates lots of talk. (Some buildings we need to pass over in silence.) And "safe and inoffensive" buildings can be good buildings.

An example of a "bold" building (or, better yet, an example of the commodification of the "bold architectural statement") :
Much has been the talk about this building.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Dead City

posted by on October 6 at 11:59 AM

The skeletons of buildings:

The bombed-out buildings are shocking enough.

There are street after ruined street of them in the centre of Mogadishu.

Some have been reduced by shellfire to rubble. Others retain a building-like shape - the rough skeletons of once-ornate Italian colonial apartment blocks or shopping arcades.

But the really eerie side to many parts of Mogadishu is the lack of people

It's not as rubble but as "rough skeletons" that we can see the actual death of a building. Like a pile of ash (of papers, a body, leaves), rubble is itself and not what it was (a house, a dam, a statue). The sum: for the death of a thing to be seen as a death, it must retain some of its living form: "the once-ornate Italian colonial apartment block."

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Project Nothingness

posted by on September 30 at 11:09 AM

This future building will generate its own power and, like something invisible, cast no shadows.

Le Project Triangle is one of those buildings that make us think that we may actually drive flying cars one day. To be completed by 2014 in the Porte de Versailles area in Paris, its most impressive feature is that, according to the architects, it won't cast shadows on adjacent buildings. The trick is the orientation and its shape: While it looks like a massive pyramid from one side, the other side shows that it really is an ultra-thin triangle resembling a shark's fin.

Expressed in this fin of a building is the lasting longing for the thinness of a thing's nothingness.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Wow Worthy

posted by on September 26 at 1:26 PM

In an email with the subject "Metaphors for Capitalism - Illustration #1," Matt Sussman "presented me with a beautiful present" (if I may borrow a few words from a standard translation of the Old Testament):

BLOODTHIRSTY shark fights in one of the world’s biggest aquariums are threatening the opening celebrations of a new Dubai shopping centre.

Razor-toothed Sand Tiger sharks have killed at least 40 smaller reef sharks and have been aggressive towards divers working on final preparations in the giant tank.

The ten million-litre aquarium features the world’s largest school of sharks and is the centrepiece of the new 5.9million sq ft Burj Dubai Mall.

Here the truth makes an appearance not on the limits but at the very center of a place that has done its best to banish all truth (the exploitation, the greed, the waste, the cruelty), a place that's a total fabrication.

I Rather Liked This Tower

posted by on September 26 at 11:40 AM

Especially for a corporate tower: pretty good. I especially liked its thin skin and small parts. It was light. Everything about it was waferly, not too hard or too thick, just flying upward. Now when I look at it I think about the evacuation of the regular-folks side of the business, the part that dealt in things like single, thin, waferly dollar bills. The building looks like stacks of bills to me. I think about them all just flying away.

(Image from here.)

The other thing that is remarkable about this photograph, besides the way it depicts what now feels like the irresponsible airiness of the building, is that the old Washington Mutual Tower is reflected on its side. That old 1980s building is a hefty thing, stocky and packed with heavy-handed references to history. It's not a good building. But it has the sort of reassuring sturdiness I wish I could believe in again when it comes to banking. That was always an illusion, I guess. The new building was, unfortunately, more honest.


posted by on September 26 at 11:09 AM

Nicolai Ourousoff says Brad Cloepfil has become part of the aggressive sanitation crew in New York City.

Meanwhile in Seattle, the building Cloepfil adapted—Robert Venturi's pomo-deco Seattle Art Museum; these impossible collage projects make Cloepfil seem like a glutton for punishment!—is attached to the WaMu tower (designed by other architects), where a certain cleaning-out of its own is taking place...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How to Spell Lollypops, and Other Huxtablisms

posted by on September 25 at 4:11 PM


The Los Angeles Times this week inaugurated its blog Culture Monster, and in today's entry by architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, he contends not only with Brad Cloepfil's renovated "lollypop" building in Columbus Circle—but also with Ada Louise Huxtable's 1964 monument of criticism, written on the occasion of the original Columbus Circle building by Edward Durell Stone.

Huxtable has yet to weigh in on the new building in the Wall Street Journal...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More Cutting

posted by on September 24 at 10:00 AM

The massacre of Freeway Park continues:
At this moment, the branches of two massive trees are being turned into wood chips, and a flood of sunlight is converting the somber poetry of the park into something that's irritatingly cheerful.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

That Aint Right

posted by on September 23 at 10:34 AM

Poor Freeway Park, the best park in this city (a park as a work of urban theory), is being destroyed at this very moment. See for yourself:

The wonderful/magical/mysterious bushes are now just stumps, and an ugly chain-link fence has been mercilessly bolted to the concrete wall. It's so ugly, so cruel to the eyes and imagination. The spell of this part of the park has been broken. The traffic and surrounding towers are exposed and raw. The whole situation is oppressive.

Read and weep:

Monday, September 22, 2008

No More Architecture

posted by on September 22 at 12:12 PM

News from the UW:

It's official: UW architecture and urban planning has been renamed the College of Built Environments.

Regents on Thursday, Sept. 18, approved a request from Dean Daniel S. Friedman and his faculty to change what has been the College of Architecture and Urban Planning. The new name takes effect Jan. 1.

“'College of Built Environments’ better reflects our core responsibility to 21st-century challenges — urbanization, climate change and livable communities,” said Friedman, a fellow of the American Institute of Architects. “Environmental integrity demands an increasingly interdisciplinary approach to design, planning and construction.”

“Built environment” refers to surroundings human beings construct — from cities and transportation systems to houses and gardens.

Yet another indication that we live in a post-architecture world.

And now for some random images relating to the condition of builtness:



Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Fragrant Seattle

posted by on September 16 at 11:03 AM

Under construction on 5th Ave:

What does it recall?
More looking into this will be done in a time that is very near to now.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Ultimate

posted by on September 10 at 12:37 PM


Authorities say a body found encased in concrete next to a home in San Diego's North Park area is believed to be that of an 80-year-old Hemet man who disappeared in May.

Police say three roommates found the body Friday while demolishing a large egg-shaped concrete form left in the yard.

We must stop what ever it is we are doing and examine this amazing story. It contains the ultimate shape: the egg; the ultimate substance: concrete; and a core that is the ultimate truth: a dead man.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

My Present Mood

posted by on September 9 at 4:22 PM


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

You Want Cheap Shit Condos?

posted by on September 2 at 5:32 PM

Then go to to review Seattle’s cheapest, shittiest condos. The buildings range from unforgivable blights (what were you thinking, Capitol Crest?), to ordinary buildings with cladding like layers of Wet n’ Wild slapped on a drag queen (hey, Braeburn). And the Breaburn's real burn: It may look like shit, but the units aren’t cheap. A medium-sized one-bedroom loft went for $465,000.

So, then, what qualifies a condo as a cheap shit condo? Here is CSC’s answer:

Cheapshit condos are the boxy, boring, characterless buildings blanding up our neighborhoods. As far as specific criteria, we look at buildings that are new-ish and clash with the neighborhood, basically whatever we don't like and our neighbors send us. There has been a good response from people who recognize the cheapshit condos in their neighborhoods.

I've got to say, I’m rather enamored with CSC. Some developers hire discount architecture firms that use shoddy materials to save money but charge market rate for their condos anyway. Then we’re all stuck looking at a crappy-ass building for decades, while the seedy siding is besieged by rust and mildew. Unless developers are building low-income housing, they deserve a slap on the wrist from

That said, the crowd that reflexively screams bloody murder about any new housing on the site of a precious parking lot or a dilapidated vacant supermarket deserves a swift kick in the eyes. Those morons always whine that new buildings aren’t made entirely out of hand-formed masonry and finished with detailed trim, and then, when they do see a really nice modern building, they bitch that it costs too much. Things made out of expensive materials cost more, fussy twits. And anything new will “clash” with old stuff around it. Failing to look like the old stuff—does anyone really want Disneyesque replications of old Seattle architecture?—is only a problem when the modern building sucks. Which some do.

So if you’ve got a cheap shit condo to suggest—a condo that is truly uninspired and flimsy—pitch it to CSC over here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Architecture and Reality

posted by on August 25 at 10:07 AM

Remember what Charles said last week on this subject?

Nicolai Ourousoff is agreeing with Mudede this morning, in a piece on the odd duck Lebbeus Woods:

By abandoning fantasy for the more pragmatic aspects of building, the profession has lost some of its capacity for self-criticism, not to mention one of its most valuable imaginative tools.

I agree. More often than not I see buildings whose designs seem to be backwardly rationalized, by which I mean that the designs are more or less logistically driven, but then are gussied up to "mean" something. I'm not opposed to logistical motivations, but I'd like them to be admitted as such. (This is also a huge problem in art, where artists can't decide which of their choices to glorify after the fact, and it makes for some weirdly gap-filled conversations and artist talks.) I also am tired of buildings being discussed and classified in terms of modernism or postmodernism or neomodernism when, in truth, they are driven by practicalism. To me, this is the case with the new Seattle Art Museum.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What Must Not Be Done

posted by on August 21 at 11:20 AM

archschool.jpgThis Wednesday, Aug. 20, the Sundance Channel will begin airing Architecture School, a six-part reality TV series about students who are helping rebuild post-Katrina New Orleans. The show focuses on 12 students in Tulane University’s design-build program, URBANbuild, as they conceptualize and construct a 1,200-square-foot house for a low-income family.
Always do the very best you can to maintain a good distance between any kind of architecture and any kind of reality.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Let There Be Concrete

posted by on August 20 at 5:09 PM

The worship of the absolute substance:

The desire for the absolute substance:

The Wondrous Stuff

posted by on August 20 at 2:49 PM


It's wondrous stuff, - concrete infused with glass fibre. Truly beautiful. Imagine a building made of this?! The strength and exterior texture of concrete, but a lightness imbued by, well, light itself. At night, with lights on inside, shadowy projections of the inhabitants would be visible moving across the exterior of the building ... Sexy.

Continue reading "The Wondrous Stuff" »

Future Concrete

posted by on August 20 at 11:37 AM

The future of the greatest of all man-made stuff, concrete, is this:

Experts from the University of Twente developed and tested the concrete paving stones which contain a titanium dioxide-based additive.

In laboratory conditions, the additive -- under the influence of sunlight -- binds the nitrogen oxide particles emitted by car exhausts and turns them into harmless nitrates.

"With one rain shower everything is washed clean," the institution said in a statement.

Nitrogen oxides, produced by industry and motor vehicles, are among the main air pollutants that lead to acid rain and smog.

Apart for their ability to clean the air and repel dirt from the road surface, there was no other difference between these new bricks and the old ones, the university said.

Concrete must save the day.

As for the incredible image, an image of the only possible paradise:

This is a ho(s?)tel in Austria, designed by art college graduate Andreas Strauss. Organized into clusters of threes, they nestle in green fields beside the Danube River. Facilities like shower, bar and cafeteria are in a central location. The hotel currently works on an honor system - you leave behind however much you think is fair for the duration of your stay.
These concrete shelters would complete Freeway Park.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Logic

posted by on August 12 at 4:02 PM

Now begins the iPodization of architecture:
Picture%2019.jpg The UNSstudio is its designer; Taiwan its location; and 2006, 2007, 2008 are the years of its construction. The iPod's commercial existence began on October, 23, 2001.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Il Paradiso

posted by on August 11 at 4:06 PM

Are you a Northwest architect, interior designer, landscape architect, urban designer, or artist brimming with ideas and willing to be paid to live for free in an Italian hill town for a stretch?

It's your lucky day.

Friday, August 8, 2008

REACTIVATE!! Exhibit in Valencia

posted by on August 8 at 3:35 PM

Forget about local politics. Right now I'm incredibly intrigued by this exhibit of temporary and modular architecture in Spain, in which architects and artists adapt spaces and buildings and put them to entirely new uses.

For example, in this project, FNP Architects took a 1768 pigsty and converted it, Russian doll-style, into a functioning house, adding a roof on the top.



In this one, architects Ali Ganjavian, Key and Maki Portilla-Kawamuram and artist Tadanori Yamaguchi created a free call center to Latin America in the center of the Plaza de Colon in Madrid--a nod to the fact that the plaza commemorates Columbus's journey to the Americas (Colon translates as Columbus).


An LA-based firm called Electroland created the Urban Nomad Shelter pictured below. According to their web site, the shelters were conceived as both art project and "humanitarian act," providing "a highly portable and inexpensive shelter to protect from cold, rain, and hard sidewalks." Pretty, isn't it?


But it probably won't surprise anyone to learn that my absolute favorite is this one, called Real Landscape/Real Mistake. By a German firm called Heri und Salli, it's a four-kilometer-long crosswalk that zigzags through the urban areas of Salzburg and adjoining forest of Salzburg.


In Seattle, the closest we've come to an event that repurposes car-oriented urban spaces for people is Park(ing) Day, a worldwide, one-day event in which people turn parking spaces into temporary installations. Although the original event in San Francisco turned a single parking space into a park to protest the city's relative lack of public spaces (see below), Park(ing) exhibits now include sidewalk cafes, banks of massage tables, croquet lawns, and lending libraries. I'll be out of town, which is a bummer, because I was really looking forward to setting up the People's Republic of 4329 Rainier Ave. South. If you're interested in participating, this handy guide will show you how.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Notorious BIG

posted by on July 30 at 2:32 PM

This is Mountain Dwellings, a Copenhagen project by Danish architects Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).
What makes BIG's apartment buildings so original? Their form of socialism is not practical but sexy. If socialism had always been this sexy, this sensuous, it would have triumphed over the other forms of state organization.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Underworld Tacoma

posted by on July 28 at 1:46 PM

Tacoma has no Chinatown. Why?

[In 2000,] the Tacoma News Tribune published an article titled "Tacoma faces up to its darkest hour," which stated that Tacoma might have turned out differently had it not booted out its Chinese population. "First, it is the only [city on the West Coast] that doesn't have a large Chinese American population, [and the last] census figures suggest there are fewer people of Chinese descent in the city now than there were in 1885."

Tacoma, however, does have "mysterious Chinese tunnels":


72 years ago, a man named William Zimmerman sat down to tell a story about "mysterious Chinese tunnels" to the U.S. government. That interview was conducted as part of the Federal Writers' Project, and it can be read online in a series of typewritten documents hosted by the Library of Congress.
Zimmerman claims that "mysterious" tunnels honeycombed the ground beneath the city of Tacoma, Washington. These would soon become known as "Shanghai tunnels," because city dwellers were allegedly kidnapped via these underground routes – which always led west to the docks – only to be shipped off to Shanghai, an impossibly other world across the ocean. There, they'd be sold into slavery.

The whole mysterious business reminds me of a passage from a letter Goethe wrote to Lavater:

Like a big city, our moral and political world is undermined with subterranean roads, cellars, and sewers, about whose connection and dwelling conditions nobody seems to reflect or think; but those who know something of this will find it much more understandable if here or there, now or then, the earth crumbles away, smoke rises out of a crack, and strange voices are heard.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Next South Africa

posted by on July 25 at 2:51 PM

Sound Transit, this is how you design a station:
Midrand_station_perspective-Display_2008.jpg The Midrand Station is part of Gautrain, South Africa's future "rapid rail link between Johannesburg, Pretoria and Joburg International Airport." The power this future railway system exerts on my imagination is the same the failed train line from Cape Town to Cairo exerted on Cecil Rhodes. Gautrain, this is the rose; dance here.

(Lee Pyne-Mercier sent the me the wonderful link.)

Friday, July 18, 2008


posted by on July 18 at 9:39 AM

Minutes after closing my eyes last night, a city and a television tower appeared.

The television tower had babies crawling up and down it.

The babies were naked.

Th babies had holes for faces.
Just before my finger entered a hole, I awoke. A long and loaded train was rattling on the tracks.

My dream has a debt. That debt is owed to Christin Clatterbuck.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

La Defense

posted by on July 15 at 12:55 PM

We see that the best buildings have in their design no humans in mind. All the better if the work is alien, monstrous, indifferent--anything more other than what we are already. A work that strives for the inhuman strives to be closer to the truth, which consistently turns out to be inhuman.

La Defense is an office-building that lies in a small business-park and is partly surrounded by houses. The outline of the building follows the capricious borders of the parcel. The ground-plan of La Defense contains two volumes which are different in length and height.

Shopping in the Nether Land

posted by on July 15 at 12:47 PM

The image, just the image:

Using A Building

posted by on July 15 at 12:32 PM

Jeanne Dekkers, a Dutch architect, is the designer of what is pictured...
...the Department of Geotechnology, Delft University of Technology. It's a sexual and muscular coupling of two buildings--raw concrete mounting scintillating glass--two periods of time, two very distinct modes and languages. What the work reveals is the contradiction at that core of any sexual unification: the whole is realized by a rupture, a crack, a break.

To see more of Dekker's work (which for the most part is not erotic but almost always powerful), go here. As for the heart of her design philosophy, it is this:

The quality of the end result as a whole intends to be greater than the sum of its parts; the design expresses the nature of the commission and simultaneously anticipates, as a cultural manifestation, the future. Using a building brings life to its emptiness.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Fun House

posted by on July 1 at 4:24 PM

badhousePicture%202.jpg Why show you this house in Leytron, Switzerland? Because you need a good laugh. Not sure if that was the designer's intention, but the result (the ultimate matter) of the effort/concept/vision is funny.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Days of Static Buildings Are Over

posted by on June 26 at 3:41 PM

Set for construction in Dubai this fall: the world's first rotating, self-powering, park-your-car-inside-your-condo skyscraper.

It's not a building, it's an action-thriller blockbuster!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

L.A. Communism

posted by on June 19 at 12:17 PM

Despite all of its utopian talk about "the future society," "society of knowledge," "communities [being] organized structures," and the "dynamic development of our society," Arcspace's article failed to recognize the real inspiration of the tower for Coop Himmelb(l)au's Central Los Angeles Area High School #9:
The Tatlin Tower:
On overcast days, the top of the Tatlin Tower, which never made it into the world (in 1917, the Soviet Union had the desire but not the resources to make it real), was to project international news, important information, empowering slogans on the belly of passing clouds. That is the stuff of my dreams.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lose Control

posted by on June 16 at 12:45 PM

To see the point in history that marks the birth place of our society, control society, we should look here, at city planning:
But let's take a step back.

In his short essay "Society of Control," Gilles Deleuze separated this older order of society, one that's under discipline:

Foucault located the disciplinary societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; they reach their height at the outset of the twentieth. They initiate the organization of vast spaces of enclosure. The individual never ceases passing from one closed environment to another, each having its own laws: first the family; then the school ("you are no longer in your family"); then the barracks ("you are no longer at school"); then the factory; from time to time the hospital; possibly the prison, the preeminent instance of the enclosed environment. It's the prison that serves as the analogical model: at the sight of some laborers, the heroine of Rossellini's Europa '51 could exclaim, "I thought I was seeing convicts."

From the current order, one under control:

The family, the school, the army, the factory are no longer the distinct analogical spaces that converge towards an owner--state or private power--but coded figures--deformable and transformable--of a single corporation that now has only stockholders. Even art has left the spaces of enclosure in order to enter into the open circuits of the bank. The conquests of the market are made by grabbing control and no longer by disciplinary training, by fixing the exchange rate much more than by lowering costs, by transformation of the product more than by specialization of production. Corruption thereby gains a new power. Marketing has become the center or the "soul" of the corporation. We are taught that corporations have a soul, which is the most terrifying news in the world. The operation of markets is now the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters. Control is short-term and of rapid rates of turnover, but also continuous and without limit, while discipline was of long duration, infinite and discontinuous. Man is no longer man enclosed, but man in debt.

In the older form of society, management of the population was direct and rigid; in the present one, it is fluid and soft. And the end of control is you managing you, you schooling you, you doctoring you, you hiring you, you punishing you. In an environment that has you doing everything, self-help books thrive.

But control society has an origin. It's in 19th century urban projects like Trafalgar Square and Haussmannization. What it is that dislocates these projects from their moment, disciplinary society, is that the management of the poor comes with real benefits. In the case of Trafalgar Square, fountains, art, an open space for leisure and also political activities; with Haussmannization, improved sanitation, the beautification of the city, and so on. But as open as they might be, both the square in London and the boulevards of Paris have as their essence the control of the poor with the visible benefits of life and the obscured threats of death--exposure to fresh air and sunshine comes with the exposure to cannon balls. From these open spaces issues a society that will obscure state power and replace it with the visibility (or simulacrum) of self-empowerment. In disciplinary society, your factory boss is your worst enemy; in control society, you are your own worst enemy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Movement in the City

posted by on June 11 at 2:57 PM

It's nice to see black flâneurie sprouting in Seattle.
As I have written before, whites tend to be coded as flâneurs, city strollers, those who have the time and freedom to move about and absorb city scenes. Blacks, on the other hand, are coded as loiterers, those who hang out on a street corner or in front of a convenience store watching the city go by. Even if the urban practice of loitering has hardened into a custom, a cultural fact, much of it crumbles when more and more of the city opens up, when one is free to move about, when one can go and see this and that scene.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Art of Emergency Urbanism

posted by on June 9 at 11:27 AM

My introduction to the importance of emergency design (architecture for those have been displaced by war or a natural disaster) was Rachael Cavallo's installation at Cornish College of the Arts's Art & Design BFA Show 2008. Its concern was developing "a flexible, cheap, and modern architecture for refugees who follow the path and laws of Islam."

Proof of how timely Cavallo's work is can be found in an article published yesterday in NYT Magazine. Here are three important passages:

Until recently, camp design focused less on shelter and more on food, water, security and medical care, in part because people can live without a roof longer than they can live without a meal and in part because shelter tends to fall into a gray area between aid, which is immediate, and development, which is longer term and therefore financed differently. There are hundreds of humanitarian organizations now operating throughout the world, but only a handful are devoted to dwelling, and they have sprung up in the last few years. The most recent edition of the U.N.’s “Handbook for Emergencies,” the vade mecum of relief planning, is 569 pages long. It includes everything from specifications about communications equipment to vehicle log sheets to minimum nutrition standards, but only 19 pages of it is devoted to shelter.


Still, the structure of camps is imperfect. For one thing, the fundamental unit — four to six people under one tarp — assumes that the nuclear family is the basic unit of settlement worldwide, as it is in the Western countries from which most aid workers come. But in many communities, people live among their extended families, their tribes or their clans. And the grid arrangement, too, replicates European notions of the rational city; it works quite well on the island of Manhattan, but it may not serve those cultures that originally organized themselves along more fluid lines. By the same token, Western notions of democratic space — each unit of housing equivalent to the next — may fit our own notions of fairness but prove disruptive to communities that are structured around an implicit or explicit ranking in honor, say, of town elders.

And, finally, the passage that speaks in the language of Mike Davis:

Refugee crises are usually seen as a stark example of the more general problem of disaster relief, which is similarly urgent though in crucial ways different. (Hurricanes, earthquakes and the like are usually over quickly, the affected population remains near home and rebuilding can begin almost immediately.) But it may be more useful to see them in the context of the enormous new tide of urban migration, a trend that has created at least 26 cities worldwide with a population greater than 10 million.

This has created an ongoing housing emergency: megaslums, shantytowns, favelas, squatter’s colonies. There are 80,000 people living on top of a garbage dump in Manila; a population of indeterminate size — perhaps as many as a million — who sleep every night in the cemeteries of Cairo; homeless encampments in San Francisco, Atlanta and Houston; guest workers camped beside the towers of the Persian Gulf; migrant workers in the San Fernando Valley. They are all displaced people.

The future of refugees cannot be separated from the future of slums on our planet.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Many More Leaves

posted by on June 6 at 1:33 PM

Keith of Green Housing Collaborative recently sent me a link to this post on hugeasscity:
Dan Bertolet writes:

How unfortunate that we all don’t have a stash of whatever it was that Charles Mudede was smoking when he wrote this Stranger piece on the new Four Seasons building on 1st Ave between Union and University. How fun it would be to look up at a stark, rectilinear glass and concrete tower that forms a massive barrier to sun, mountains, and water, and interpret it as profound connection to the natural world, a form that casts shadows like those from pristine alpine peaks because it is painted the color of mud.

First: I'm not a pot smoker. If you have to know, wine is my prime (and almost only) poison. Second: The poster's leading criticism does not connect with what I attempted to explain in the article. Dan is concerned with pedestrian matters:

Back here on earth, on the ground, what I see is a building that fails to embrace the street. As you can see in the photo above, roughly half of what the passing pedestrian encounters at eye level while walking along the building on 1st Ave is concrete wall.

I couldn't care less about the street and what the building is doing to it. My leading concern was (and still is) the coding of the work. To my eyes, the Four Seasons is less a building and more of a book. And here I'm referring, of course, to the second chapter of Hugo's novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, “This Will Kill That.” Because everyone has read this novel, everyone knows that the chapter is about architecture as a form of writing:

Architecture began like all writing. It was first an alphabet. Men planted a stone upright, it was a letter, and each letter was a hieroglyph, and upon each hieroglyph rested a group of ideas, like the capital on the column. This is what the earliest races did everywhere, at the same moment, on the surface of the entire world.”
What everyone might not know is that this chapter inspired Frank Lloyd Wright to become an architect--verification of this claim can be found in Edward R. Ford's The Details of Modern Architecture: 1928 to 1988.

This is what I read in the Four Seasons: It tells the story of Seattle's self-imagined relationship with its natural surroundings. For this reason, its story/coding is less related to the international green movement in architecture and more related (if not totally related) to the mural of the orca whales on Seattle Steam, a building that the Four Season faces and echoes. Indeed, to walk down Western Ave is to walk in a forest of correspondences.

This (the coding, the language, the correspondences) is the utter matter of my article.

Monday, June 2, 2008

More Leaves

posted by on June 2 at 2:05 PM

From an email that concerned Leaves of Glass:

In reading your "Leaves of Glass" article on the new Four Seasons, I found myself somewhat perplexed. I read Alexandros Washburn’s quote about contemporary virtue “being a concern for nature” as referring not only to the aesthetic aspects of a building, which you celebrated, but also to the functional aspects of the building, which you omitted. I looked around online and found no mention of any "sustainable" features of the building and, assuming this is indeed the case, I would have to conclude that the building's cladding merely projects the image of being concerned with nature.

Before responding to this email, let's look at an image of Freeway Park by Leff:


This is the mistake I made in the article: I failed to clearly separate two discourses--one, The New Virtue, is which international; the other, Natural Seattle, which is local. The first has real environmental issues at its core; the other has no reality at its core--as from crust to core, it's all about coding, naming, saying something. In this instance, we must not confuse the discourses. They sound similar but are in fact not. NBBJ's Seattle Justice Center is not the same as NBBJ's Four Seasons Hotel. The Justice Center turns the artificial into the natural: The New Virtue (a real effect); the Four Seasons reiterates a feeling, a meaning, a local ideal: Natural Seattle (a sign effect). As of yet, there is not a single building or architectural work that is at once The New Virtue and Natural Seattle. The one is the one, and the other is the other.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The New Virtue

posted by on May 30 at 12:09 PM

The article Leaves of Glass needs a few words of explanation. Three things generate its meaning and course of thought. One, the semiotic theories of Roland Barthes. These days, few thinkers give semiotics much value. Marxists and Nietzschians continue to dominate continental criticism. Barthes, like Valery, has practically vanished from the indexes of major works of contemporary theory. But the labor of semiotics is not over; it has much to offer as a demystifying tool. The blending of Marxist sociology with Barthesian structuralism has in it the strength to penetrate the idealogical walls of our currently globalized society.

Now that we have mentioned globalization, we can move to the second of the three meaning makers of the article, which is this wonderful passage by the chief urban designer for New York City, Alexandros Washburn:

The Greeks may not have invented civic virtue, but they certainly branded the idea with architecture... [But] the Corinthian column no longer signifies virtue, civic or otherwise. There has been a paradigm shift away from architecture. What signifies virtue these days is a concern for nature... Just as two millennia ago, a sculptor transformed the biomass of the acanthus plant into a template for architecture, using its stalk, leaves and flower as a model for the shaft and volutes of the Corinthian column, we today must transform the rigidities of architecture into the adaptations of nature."
Two things from the passage. One, the globalization of the Mediterranean plant (the moldings of which can be found from Cape Town to Lima to Seattle) matches the globalization of The New Virtue--a concern for nature.

And two, the beauty of Washburn concept is that this:
...becomes this:
Art becomes life. But the art has not left the life. With the new virtue, art has no line that limits it.

The third meaning maker has to do with Seattle. The New Virtue is an international movement. It is simultaneous; it happens all at once; it has no center from which it radiates. With its green (living) roof, the new fire station, Station # 10, in Pioneer Square is a part of that international moment in architecture.

But Seattle has had its own nature/urban discourse. It's a discourse that is not tied to global issues of sustainability but, instead, to the local geography. Richard Rorty once spoke of "the mirror of philosophy," Seattle's architectural discourse is about "the mirror of architecture."

In the beginning, this discourse was blunt (if not stupid):

Freeway Park marked the point of its complication. The final goal of this local discourse is the eradication of the distinction between not just nature and urban but the outside and the inside. This discourse believes itself to be honest. It wants the movement between mountains and buildings to be uninterrupted. It wants the city to be a mirror of its surroundings.