Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife


Thursday, March 13, 2008

The New Virtue

posted by on March 13 at 16:22 PM

The Chief Urban Designer for New York City, Alexandros Washburn, has a lovely little (and not too old) article on that names nature (green) as the civic virtue for the 21th century.
Agreed, it’s not a profound article. But because it’s thinking the current against the ancient Greeks (one of the most productive ways to think or construct a path for a problematic—the Greeks need to return to the center of our eduction system), it generates exquisite passages like this:

To be a better city, we must build green, use mass transit, and restore purity to our water and air, with park access for all. This is a vision of a new type of city for the 21st century: at once more urbane and more natural. It is a marriage of building and landscape that is challenging every notion we have ever had about design.

The paradigm has shifted, and we must change our direction: 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. The stone column crumbles and is replaced with the growing stalk. Networks of green signify community in ways that the architecture of the past no longer can. City-initiated rezonings center around new public spaces or streetscape improvements and each is crafted in consultation with the community it serves.

“The stone column crumbles and is replaced with the growing stalk.” For me, at every read, a spinal jolt of joy from this terrific connection of words and imagery.

RSS icon Comments


Charles, do you mean to not be writing in complete sentences?

Posted by idaho | March 13, 2008 4:34 PM

Now if we could only mandate that every new residential condo/tower building had to have a green roof that was 80% as large as its dimensions, and that all costs had to be born and remain with the developer.

I'd love to see a bunch of green roofs all over the place. It would be incredibly refreshing if every new large bar had that requirement too.

I cringe for the day when Seattle is just a bunch of concrete and skyskyscrapers. At that point I'll be admiring it from afar, never setting foot inside the city unless forced to.

Seattle should not be striving to be New York. I can think of dozens of alternatives, but not that concrete jungle of Gotham, with it's associated urban decay, crime and famous coldness.

No thanks.

Posted by Reality Check | March 13, 2008 4:39 PM

It might make us feel all warm and fuzzy when a building roof has moss on it and a few trees planted, but the truth of the matter is it's NOT habitat. The wild natural areas of this country are being paved over. some Urban creeks in Seattle are dead eco systems. Hurray for a moss covered roof. They're all over Seattle.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | March 13, 2008 4:55 PM

@3 a habitat? no. But they do vastly reduce rain runoff, improve air quality, and reduce heat gain of both the building and the city.

Posted by cmaceachen | March 13, 2008 5:28 PM

Right - and New Urbanist-inspired City planners are busily signing off on the paving over of every last inch of Seattle in the name of environmentalism even as I write this.

Good luck with that.

Posted by Mr. X | March 13, 2008 6:31 PM

Corinthian columns are not replicas of nature. The assertion they are is yet another phony baloney ill informed statement. This is the ill informed statement: "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" thios wrongly suggests the idea of a column came from mimicking nature.

Columns in Greek or Roman arch. have very specific proportions, their placement has specific proportions, the beam above the capital has a specific proportion, etc. They are not imitation plant stalks. The simplest are Doric (plain), then Ionic (little scroll tops on the capital, I guess Charles would say they're mimicking papyrus scrolls), then Corinthian....which have those leaves on the capitals which are pretty much the only thing about them mimicking Nature. In other words the shaft and volutes the capital plus the associated other pieces of architecture into which columns fit have nothing to do with mimicking Nature. Only those little leaves do. They are decorative trim.

Posted by unPC | March 13, 2008 6:55 PM

Pygmy goats.

I always thought there should be pygmy goats up there.

Architects got no vision.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | March 13, 2008 8:37 PM

Will someone please get Charles some grass and a copy of Simcity? Maybe he'll pipe down for awhile.

Posted by Ed | March 13, 2008 8:56 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).