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Neighbourhood News: Tuesday June 30th

A Tale of Two Cites

Its a tale of two cities and two ways of designing them Seattle and Vancouver are both considered to be good urban models, each with their own issues, but overall they are design and planning styles that many other cities seek to emulate. In this addition of neighbourhood news we take a look a a set of media where spokespeople from either city spoke out in favour of the other.


The Great Vancouver vs. Seattle Debate

Is the civic grass greener on the other side of the border? Two urban experts each make the case for the others’ home town.

By Knute Berger

Two of the region’s civic heavyweights squared off at the Seattle Public Library on June 18 to settle the issue about which of Cascadia’s two biggest cities has the best built environment, Seattle or Vancouver, BC. It was a rematch of a debate conducted earlier in the week in Vancouver, sponsored by VIA Architecture, which has offices in both cities.

Making the pro-Vancouver case was Seattle’s Peter Steinbrueck; arguing for Seattle, Vancouver’s Gordon Price. Both are devoted sustainability advocates, both have spent years on their respective city councils. Steinbrueck is an architect who has taught at the University of Washington; Price heads up Simon Fraser University’s City Program and writes and lectures about urban planning. The shorthand introduction that Seattleites could relate to: “Gordon Price is the Peter Steinbrueck of Vancouver,” said moderator C.R. Douglas. Let’s just say the debate was between two apples arguing about which town had better oranges.


The debates focused on the positives of each city, and tended to prove the adage that the grass is always greener on the other side of your neighbor’s fence. Instead of rehashing (you can find one or both debates on Twitter feeds, a webcast and the Seattle Channel), I thought I would digest it by providing a list of the “pros” for each city that came up, with Steinbrueck mostly speaking for the Vancouver side of the equation and Price for the Seattle side. And then a couple of summary “con” comments on major downsides.

The gist for architects, planners, policy-makers, and citizens is that, as Robert Burns said, seeing ourselves as other see us is a gift that helps us question cherished assumptions.

Seattle urbanophiles, for example, love to tout Vancouver’s skinny towers as the end-all of downtown living and something to emulate. Price, on the other hand, found much to envy in Seattle’s risk-taking architecture and individualistic neighborhoods, and much mediocrity in Vancouver’s look-alike high-rises. READ MORE

Via Architecture

Neighbourhood News: Thursday June 18

A Royal Row

You may or may not be aware that recently the Prince of Whales sent a letter to the Qatari Royal Family requesting that they withdraw the plan they had previously selected for a site called the Chelsea Barracks  and take it to open consultation to come up with a plan that was in his opinion more suited to the character of the surrounding neighbourhoods. The Qataris then took the stunning step of not just revising the plan, but ditching the whole thing. Much to the delight of some… the prince and most of the surrounding residents… but to the absolute horror of others… architectural firm that lost the business, headed by Lord Rogers of Riverside (an unelected member of the British Government) and other modernists in love with the design. Now the screaming has begun, and the Prince is being charged with overstepping his authority by the deposed Lord Rogers.

“The prince always goes round the back to wield his influence, using phone calls or, in the case of the Chelsea Barracks, a private letter. It is an abuse of power because he is not willing to debate. He has made his representations two and a half years late and anyone else would have been shown the door. We should examine some of the ethics of this situation. Someone who is unelected, will not debate but will use the power bestowed by his birthright must be questioned.”

The Super Creative Plan by Lord Rogers

The Super Creative Plan by Lord Rogers

Personally while I can understand the need to bitch by the looser in this case it should be noted that the first master plan by Lord Rogers wasn’t exactly a gem of public consultation, and didn’t have the support of the surrounding residents. Plus to some it extent what good is it to be a prince if you can not write a letter telling other Royal Families what you think about things? Then Lord Rogers goes on to insult the Qataris by suggesting that “the Qataris never sorted out the difference between royalty and government.” Suggesting that they somehow had no idea that Prince Charles isn’t actually in charge of anything, that the Prince tricked them into thinking that he had some sort of power. Right…. so Lord Rogers is suggesting that the Qataris have no idea how the legal system and system of governance works in England? Because they don’t have TVs and Access to the Internet? Because they don’t have their own giant legal team who knows this stuff? PLEASE!  Try to accept your loss like a real Lord, Mr Rogers. Have a little dignity, and try not to insult the intelligence of one of the largest development corporations in the world. Or its unlikely they will be knocking on your door for any new contracts any time soon, and as one of the articles puts it, “Rogers has been paid millions, so I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him.”

The Wall Street Journal

Prince Charles Tears Down Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood

charlesIn front of the Palace of Westminster, the so-called Mother of Parliaments that is the heart of the British democratic system, stands a well-tended bronze statue of broad-belted, big-booted Oliver Cromwell. He was the “Lord Protector” who ruled during the short-lived republic that followed the English Civil War and the execution of King Charles I. Cromwell might be excused a wry smile right now because another royal Charles is, some say, challenging the dearly held British principle of a constitutional monarchy. And all because of a row over architecture. Prince Charles, a vehement antimodernist, is up to his old tricks again.

The row has now escalated, with an English Baron — Lord Rogers of Riverside, better known as the architect Richard Rogers — calling for an official tribunal to examine the role of Prince Charles in state affairs. Mr. Rogers is incandescent with rage, and no wonder. It has emerged that the prince personally wrote to the Qatari prime minister (himself of royal blood) to ensure that a £6 billion ($9.85 billion) Rogers-designed housing development in the upmarket London enclave of Chelsea was withdrawn by its developer.

That developer, Qatari Diar, happens to be a company owned by the Qatari royal family. Prince has therefore spoken unto prince, ignoring the usual planning-approval process, the British government — everybody. Charles’s letter — the substance of which has been leaked, though not the actual text — decried the Rogers design. The neoclassical style of another architect, Quinlan Terry, was much more preferable, Prince Charles said. Last week Qatari Diar duly dropped Mr. Rogers like a hot potato, just as the architect’s design for the former Chelsea Barracks site was being recommended for approval by both local planners and the various national architecture and conservation agencies. Read More


Only Charles has kept his dignity on Chelsea Barracks

The quiet dignity maintained by Lord Rogers for the past few months while all and sundry speculated about his doomed Chelsea Barracks scheme was comprehensively shattered this week, as you may have seen reported here and there.

In a hissy fit of architectural proportions, His Lordship took to the airwaves on Tuesday to accuse Prince Charles of “unconstitutional meddling”. Rogers added insult to injury in that day’s Guardian, muttering about “abuses of power” and calling for a public inquiry to examine the Prince’s role in constitutional society. Harsh words from the mild-mannered Rogers, but given the way in which he and his practice have been treated on this perhaps you can’t blame him for throwing his toys out of the pram in such a fashion.

The design team was, I am told, assured of its position on the scheme by Qatari Diar no fewer than ten days before they unceremoniously withdrew the proposals from planning. Rogers was informed of the withdrawal just a single hour before the rest of us were. Curiously though, the Evening Standard knew enough to predict such a thing would happen the evening before. This has been a story dictated by private briefings from all manner of interested parties. No wonder none of us had the faintest idea what was going on.

One thing is clear, though. Throughout it all, Prince Charles has remained tight-lipped as to the nature of his “intervention”, as that is what we are calling it. An intervention is something that an alcoholic’s family and friends carry out to stop them from abusing their health. Perhaps the Prince sees himself as the kindly, benevolent figure preventing Chelsea from taking to the intoxicating liquer of modernism. We don’t know. Clarence House has steadfastly refused to confirm or deny any involvement by the Prince on Chelsea Barracks. As far as I am aware, the Prince has not mentioned either Lord Rogers or the development by name at any point in this whole furore. Read More


Richard Rogers Gets Fired

Architect Richard Rogers is in a steaming bate. He’s really very cross. There he stands, on the cusp of 76, a long and windy career in modernism behind him.

He has been feted by breathless peers and is quite the most modish and prosperous of intellectual Center Lefties in Western Europe. And yet he has just had his year ruined by two royal families.

Stamp, stamp, stamp go two little booties. Curses hurtle through the air. Kyboshed by hereditary princes! Lord Rogers of Riverside, an unelected member of the British Parliament, cries that it is an undemocratic outrage.

Having worked for months on a 3-billion-pound building proposal in central London’s former Chelsea Barracks, Rogers learned last week that the developers have pulled out of the glass-and-steel scheme at the 11th hour.

Why? Because Britain’s Prince Charles did not like the look of the thing.

The prince, whose traditionalist views are well known, wrote to one of the development’s leading financiers. We do not know the exact wording because the letter was private. It is understood, however, to have expressed horror at the aesthetic damage the shiny, angular Rogers design would have done to one of London’s more architecturally conservative quarters.

The recipient of the letter, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, is not only prime minister and foreign affairs minister of the Arab emirate of Qatar but also a member of that prosperous territory’s royal family. We can only imagine what happened. A flunky, bowing low, intones: “A hand-written letter for you, O Sheikh, written on the notepaper of Clarence House, London residence of the Prince of Wales.” The Sheikh strokes his luxuriant moustachings, plops another date into his mouth and licks his sticky fingertips before breaking the seal on the English Basildon Bond envelope. Read More


Chelsea Barracks Developer Draws up New Shortlist

Chelsea_Barracks_site_D3ADAChelsea Barracks developer Qatari Diar is preparing to invite a dozen practices including SOM, Allies & Morrison, Edaw and Demetri Porphyrios to pitch for its revised masterplan.

Firms will shortly be asked by the Middle Eastern developer if they are interested in coming up with alternatives to the abandoned Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners design with a view to selecting a shortlist of no more than six practices and choosing a winner by the end of the year, BD understands.

But the architects will be under pressure to refuse to take part after Labour MP Ken Purchase tabled an early day motion on Tuesday calling for a boycott.

Qatari Diar has approached consultants including Cabe and the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment for unpaid advice. And a source close to the developer said it was keen to “crack on” with a new scheme.

“It is on the cusp of approaching firms to form a long list of possible bidders,” the source said. “Some will say no from the off but others will have a look.”

Despite its ejection from the project, Rogers Stirk Harbour is believed to have been paid between £10 million and £20 million for its work on the scheme, originally for developer Christian Candy’s CPC Group.

“Rogers has been paid millions, so I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him,” the source added. Read More.

Neighbourhood News: June 9th

Unpaved Paradise and Get Rid of that Parking Lot

Design by Field Operations and Diller Scofidio +

Design by Field Operations and Diller Scofidio +

New York Magazine


The High Line’s levitating parkland has been so long and so rapturously anticipated that the nine-block segment that opens this week can hardly compete with its own story. The tale is a triumph of urban salvage. A pair of young preservationists falls in love with a weedy, ironbound rail bed threading its way above the streets of West Chelsea and the meatpacking district. Owners of the lots it crosses want to tear it down. Finally, through the miracle of persuasion, the elevated railway is converted from eyesore to amenity. But wait: There’s the real-estate subplot! Developers use the little park to leverage their most wild-eyed ambitions. City officials rewrite the zoning, values climb, and architects arrive from the far corners of the realm.

At this point we find ourselves with two distinct High Lines. One is a quiet passeggiata of deliberately rough design, the other a larger district of new art and fresh development. A year ago, the condos popping up along Tenth Avenue were a visible expression of consumer confidence. Cocky buyers were spending $2,000 for each square foot of as-yet-nonexistent floor space and a hundred times that much for a patch of colored canvas with which to adorn their future walls. (The world has changed; the apartments keep on coming, whether they’re wanted or not, and who knows if anyone will be buying art to furnish them?) Read More

The Real Deal

Times Square Goes From Pavement To Park

(Source:ratherbebiking on Flickr)ratherbebiking

(Source: ratherbebiking on Flickr)

In those humble, semi-comical lawn chairs that are newly strewn across Broadway at the intersection of Times Square, you are witnessing the future of New York City and, indeed, the future of the city itself as a human institution

As of last week, the Bloomberg administration made good on its promise to close Broadway down, at least provisionally, from 42nd to 47th streets (and also from 33rd to 35th streets). In part the pilot project is intended to relieve congestion by redirecting vehicular traffic to Sixth and Seventh avenues. (The mayor has yet to decide whether the pedestrian mall will be permanent.)

But more vitally, it is a recognition of how cities are evolving on our post-industrial planet. For the first time in history, urban-ness has become its own reward. People come to cities not for their careers, but for the sheer pleasure of urban experience. And though it is well known that New York was the first city to enter the modern age, it is no less true that it is the first city to have entered the post-industrial age. Read More

Neighbourhood News March 30th 2009

Critical looks at the future of city building.

The Washington Post

In Va., Vision of Suburbia at a Crossroads

Targeting Cul-de-Sacs, Rules Now Require Through Streets in New Subdivisions

cul-de-sac-2Virginia is taking aim at one of the most enduring symbols of suburbia: the cul-de-sac.

The state has decided that all new subdivisions must have through streets linking them with neighboring subdivisions, schools and shopping areas. State officials say the new regulations will improve safety and accessibility and save money: No more single entrances and exits onto clogged secondary roads. Quicker responses by emergency vehicles. Lower road maintenance costs for governments.

Although cul-de-sacs will remain part of the suburban landscape for years to come, the Virginia regulations attack what the cul-de-sac has come to represent: quasi-private standalone developments around the country that are missing only a fence and a sign that says “Keep Out.”

Homeowners choose cul-de-sacs because, they say, they offer safety, security and a sense of community.

“Cul-de-sacs are the safest places in America to live,” said Mike Toalson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Virginia, which opposes the new rules. “The first lots sold are often on the cul-de-sacs because they are safe.” As for developments with single entrances and exits, Toalson said, such configurations ensure that all traffic is local, neighbors watch out for each other and speeds are kept down. “Crooks look for multiple exits.”

Prince William County residents Brian and Donna Goff chose to raise their children in a cul-de-sac life. They live on Vixen Court, one of seven cul-de-sacs in Bridlewood Manor, a subdivision in Bristow. “You’ve got a family atmosphere. It stays quiet here,” said Brian Goff, 42. The couple, who have two young children, have lived in the cul-de-sac for nine years.

The changes come as cash-strapped states and localities can no longer afford the inexorable widening of secondary roads that are overburdened with traffic from the subdivisions, strip malls, schools and office buildings that feed into them. The system forces drivers to enter these traffic-choked roads to go even 50 yards or so to the neighborhood coffeehouse or elementary school. North Carolina and Portland, Ore., are moving on similar fronts.  Read More.


Reinventing America’s Cities: The Time Is Now

future-of-citiesTHE country has fallen on hard times, but those of us who love cities know we have been living in the dark ages for a while now. We know that turning things around will take more than just pouring money into shovel-ready projects, regardless of how they might boost the economy. Windmills won’t do it either. We long for a bold urban vision.

With their crowded neighborhoods and web of public services, cities are not only invaluable cultural incubators; they are also vastly more efficient than suburbs. But for years they have been neglected, and in many cases forcibly harmed, by policies that favored sprawl over density and conformity over difference.

Such policies have caused many of our urban centers to devolve into generic theme parks and others, like Detroit, to decay into ghost towns. They have also sparked the rise of ecologically unsustainable gated communities and reinforced economic disparities by building walls between racial, ethnic and class groups.

Correcting this imbalance will require a radical adjustment in how we think of cities and government’s role in them. At times it will mean destruction rather than repair. And it demands listening to people who have spent the last decade imagining and in many cases planning for more sustainable, livable and socially just cities. Read More

Neighbourhood News: Friday March 13th

Hey Curator, Whats the deal?

Dallas News
Austin’s Blanton Museum shows ‘Birth of the Cool: California Art Design and Culture at Midcentury’

cool21AUSTIN – Atomic design, Eames era, midcentury modern: The post-World War II art and architecture that embraced the future is known by all these names. At the Blanton Museum of Art, more than 200 of the very best examples are on display in an exhibition called “Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design and Culture at Midcentury.”

Here is the creative intersection among artists, architects, musicians, industrial designers and filmmakers that spawned hard-edged abstract paintings, glass and steel houses, jazz music, fiberglass and plywood furniture, and graphic arts that are considered some of the foundation stock of American modernism.

The title “Birth of the Cool” comes from a 1949 Miles Davis album. You can admire this cover design among a wall of jazz album covers and a series of stunning black-and-white photographs by William Claxton of Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, June Christy, Gerald Mulliganand Sonny Rollins as you sit in an Eero Saarinen tulip chair in a Blanton gallery.

Swivel slightly and view an enormous photograph of Charles and Ray Eames’ and Saarinen’s Case Study House #9. It was designed for Arts and Architecture magazine publisher and visionary John Entenza, who anticipated the need for affordable housing at the end of the Second World War and asked the most innovative architects of the time to design modern, easy-to-produce family homes.

Initially the houses were only realized on the pages of the magazine. Eventually 36 were built in Southern California, and as a group they are considered by many to be the most important contribution to American modernist residential architecture. Unfortunately, they never found a mass audience or builder willing to bankroll an entire subdivision. The few that still exist are fiercely protected by their owners and revered by architectural historians. Read More


Grand Rapids Art Museum swaps Eero Saarinen architecture exhibit for smaller show to save money

BIGTIME_SU_B_^_SUNDAYGRAND RAPIDS — The tough economic climate has led the Grand Rapids Art Museum to revise one of its exhibitions planned for this summer.

A major retrospective of work by architect and designer Eero Saarinen organized by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York has been canceled. It will be replaced by a smaller show of work by Eero Saarinen and his father, Eliel Saarinen, a mid-20th century Finnish-American designer. The collection comes from the Cranbrook Art Museum in the Detroit Area.

Canceling the larger touring exhibition and replacing it with a smaller special loan installation was a cost-cutting decision, said museum director Celeste Adams.

“We are managing challenging economic times and are being careful about committing to the costs associated with large exhibitions right now,” Adams said.

The original exhibition “Shaping the Future,” scheduled to open June 2, would have occupied 6,000 square feet in the museum. Currently, it appears in the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis through April 27. Read More

Ozarks First

Design Talent Showcased on Museum Project
(Springfield, MO) — A local historical society is turning to area college students for help on a new project. The group plans to preserve a part of the Ozarks history through a new facility.

The idea came after the group received a generous gift.  The land donated to the White River Valley Historical Society in Forsyth is giving the group space to build a new heritage center while giving students at Drury University a lesson.

Danielle Clay hopes to bring the community of Forsyth together with an idea she’s designing in class.

“We’ve been working on a museum in Forsyth, Missouri and its more of a heritage to represent their history and their past.  But they wanted to bring interaction.  It’s not one of those history museums that you go and look at all the pictures.  They want people to actually feel like their in history,” said student, Danielle Clay.

Clay and 44 other architecture students at Drury are coming up with design concepts to help leaders with the White River Valley Historical Society build a new 10,000 square foot facility.

“My inspiration, I actually watched a movie about Forsyth and they said the river really brought life to the city so, I wanted to bring this museum to bring life, keep it going and bring the community together.  So, that’s a real important aspect for them,” said Clay.

The students work in teams to create a site model.  Then, individually each person designs a section of the center.

“I started thinking about the site.  Its in a very wooded area and the site has a real close proximity to the White River, which is what the society is kind of based on so, I started thinking about nature and how in the Ozarks you have a spiritual connection to nature,” said student, Lauren Brown.

Through their class project, students aren’t just earning a grade — they’re also learning what it is like being a real architect. Read More.

Neighbourhood News: Monday March 2nd

The New Yorker

Toddlin’ Town: Daniel Burnham’s great Chicago Plan turns one hundred.


Rendering of Burnham's vision for Chicago

Burnham was famous for the dictum “Make no little plans,” and Jules Guerin’s alluring watercolor renderings in the published “Plan of Chicago” gave this vision an ethereal cast.
In the mid-eighteen-nineties, Daniel Burnham, then the most prominent architect in Chicago, met with a young architect named Frank Lloyd Wright. Burnham had been impressed by Wright’s talent but felt that he could use some seasoning. He offered to pay Wright’s tuition at the École des Beaux-Arts, in Paris, to support his family, and to give him a job when he returned. Wright turned him down. It was one of the few times that Burnham, who was probably the most successful power broker the American architectural profession has ever produced, didn’t get his way, and he told Wright that he was making a mistake: the Beaux-Arts style, of which Burnham was a leading exponent, was taking over the country, and Wright was deluded if he thought that his modern approach, with its open spaces and horizontal lines, would ever amount to much.

Burnham and Wright went their separate ways, but their paths kept crossing, because if you had anything to do with American architecture around the turn of the century you inevitably ran into Burnham. He designed the Flatiron Building, in New York; Union Station in Washington, D.C.; Orchestra Hall in Chicago; Selfridges department store, in London; and more banks and office buildings than you could count. He got the train tracks that had despoiled the Mall in Washington for much of the nineteenth century removed and headed a Washington planning commission that, among other achievements, set the location for the Lincoln Memorial. Most important of all, a hundred years ago, in 1909, Burnham completed work on a document with the unassuming title “Plan of Chicago” that remains the most effective example of large-scale urban planning America has ever seen. Assisted by the young city planner Edward H. Bennett, he laid out the shorefront of Lake Michigan, quadrupling the amount of parkland and thus insuring that the lakefront would forever be public open space. He created the Magnificent Mile, the double-decker roadway of Wacker Drive, and the recreational Navy Pier, which extends into Lake Michigan. Envisioning Chicago as the anchor of an enormous region, he drafted a rough outline of highways to connect the city to the places around it. Quite simply, Burnham determined the shape of modern Chicago. Continue Reading

Neighbourhood News: February 13th

Two Wheeled News

The Courier Journal

City aims to build center for bike commuters

The city is seeking federal money to develop a large bike station intended to encourage more bicycle commuting into downtown.

If the request for $1.3 million in federal Department of Transportation aid isn’t approved, the city will try to find other sources of money to help construct the facility on city-owned land somewhere downtown, said Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Abramson.

“We’ve been discussing the project for several years, and now we’re ready to move forward,” said Poynter, adding that the city hopes to have a design by year’s end and start construction once it is funded. “We’d like to have it built yesterday.”

Poynter said the intent is to have secure parking for bicycles, as well as lockers and showers to accommodate commuters who need to change into good clothes for the work day. A bike shop with rudimentary sales and repair services could also be part of the station, which would be close to bus lines, he said. Read More

Gotham Gazette

Bike Lanes Run into Opposition

Protesters showed up in clown suits. Their opponents threatened to barricade a major thoroughfare with school buses. A respected community board member was fired from her leadership post. The debate has involved lost jobs, injury — and even sex.

The source of all this controversy and activism? A bike lane.

With concerns about pollution, congestion and energy consumption, encouraging people to cycle instead of drive could be seen as a kind of motherhood and apple pie issue. But as the Department of Transportation greatly expands New York’s bicycling lanes, it has encountered opposition from local small manufacturing businesses, the Hasidic community and shop owners, among others.

“We would never have predicted that bike lanes could provoke so much upset,” Gowanus Lounge once observed after a community meeting on bike lanes, adding that a member of a local civic group said the issue “led to the most contentious meetings they have experienced, including discussions of Atlantic Yards.”

Some of the controversy undoubtedly stems from the frenzied competition for New York’s streets with motorists, cyclists, trucks, pedestrians, skaters and baby strollers all jostling up against each other for safe passage. Some critics, though, say the city, in its drive to expand bicycling, has not always consulted sufficiently with the affected communities . Read Morebikelanes

Neighbourhood News: Feb 5th

The Presidents Architectural Outlook


The Providence Journal

Obama’s Architectural Agenda

ADVICE IS POURING into the Office of Urban Policy, President Obama’s new White House shop on city affairs. The first metrosexual in the Oval Office has an in-box stacked high by now with learned papers advocating mass transit, bike paths, light rail, infrastructure repair, smart growth, green architecture, affordable housing, the New Urbanism, historic preservation and other ways to rebuild civic life, not to mention, say, gasoline-tax hikes to pay for it (if that’s necessary anymore).

Allow me to place on this towering pile a slender sheet that advocates traditional architecture.

No, the substitution of cornices, colonnades, architraves, mullions and balustrades for modern architecture’s glass curtain walls and computer-engineered feats of gravity defiance will not solve the nation’s problems. But as a policy tool, traditional architecture could advance many parts of the Obama agenda, not only in urban affairs, housing policy and areas with a more or less direct aesthetic component but in energy, climate, technology and even policies with no obvious aesthetic component whatsoever, such as reform of the corporate and financial systems or even international diplomacy.

For example, Obama wants to pursue policies to cut America’s carbon footprint that offer the biggest bang for the buck. The greenest policy is to reuse old buildings. He should reject high-tech energy-saving devices and “green” structural technologies now in vogue. They merely enable modern architects to inflate costs through ever more unconventional forms and engineering. Instead, the Office of Urban Policy should propose incentives for energy-saving methods embodied in traditional architecture, methods that emphasize practices and technologies predating our dependence on endless low-cost energy. Read More


Los Angeles Times

The Neoclassicism of Barak Obama

Over at his blog Hello Beautiful!, architecture writer and public radio fixture Edward Lifson has been asking the following question: “If Barack Obama were a building, what building would Barack Obama be?”

In response, one of his readers suggested Steven Holl’s spare, luminous 2007 addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City (“not flashy, [but] new and fresh”). …

Another nominated the 2004 main branch of the Seattle Public Library, below, by Rem Koolhaas and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (“forward-looking, intelligent, jazzy, cool”).
Coincidentally enough, I’ve been thinking lately along similar lines. Actually, I’m not sure it really qualifies as a coincidence: The urge to draw parallels between design or architecture and heads of state is hardly new. In his most recent book, “The Judicious Eye,” the architectural historian Joseph Rykwert points out that during the reign of Louis XVIII, some observers at the court compared the excessive ornament around the king’s bed frame to his round figure.

My goal, though, has been a little different from Lifson’s. I’m not especially interested in linking Obama to a single building or architect. What I’ve been trying to do is make sense of the connections I keep noticing between Obama’s first week or so in office and the ideals and symbols of neoclassicism.

At first I wanted to pretend those connections weren’t there. Neoclassicism — which in architectural circles has been unable to shake a dusty, stodgy reputation in recent years — and Barack Obama? What about the groundbreaking, precedent-shattering newness of a black president? Wasn’t a good portion of Obama’s campaign dedicated to relentlessly pounding home the idea of “change”?
Since wrapping up the Democratic nomination, though, Obama has put an increasing emphasis on history and the long view and gone out of his way to project a measured, even-keeled temperament. The event that marked the shift, in fact, was Obama’s August acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Denver — a speech he gave in front of an aggressively symbolic neoclassical backdrop, below, dropped by his set designers into the steel-and-glass bowl of Invesco Stadium. Read More

Neighbourhood News Feb 2 2009

Viet Nam Net

French-Vietnamese artist unveils city of the future

An overseas Vietnamese artist’s vision for a cultural city of the future may be one step closer to fruition as many local architects praised it as a bold and creative vision that reflects his whole-hearted love of his home nation.

Stemming from his ambition to embark on a vast project to honor the source of the nation and symbolise Vietnam’s unique culture, Tran Van Liem, a French painter of Vietnamese origin, has spent 20 years developing the plans for Van Lang City. After living abroad for more than 30 years, the artist returned to Vietnam at the end of 2008 to deliver a lecture on the project.

The basis of Van Lang City’s design is rooted in Oriental philosophy, contained by a circle measuring 1,800m in diameter. The city would be capable of accommodating about 1 million residents and would possess eight, spoke-like boulevards leading from the rim of the circle to a central plaza.

Two of the city’s major landmarks are the “Thien tu thap” and “Hoang tu thap” towers, dedicated to Lac Long Quan and Au Co – the legendary ancestor of the Vietnamese nation. The tower dedicated to Lac Long Quan, distinguished by its square foundations, symbolises Yang-Heaven, whilst the tower dedicated to Au Co with circular foundations would represent Yin-Earth. Read More


Los Angeles Times

New Capitol Visitor Center: not a capital idea

Here at Urban Neighbourhood we came to a similar conclusion

With a half-a-trillion dollars of stimulus spending on the way and real-estate developers mired in what could turn out to be a decade-long slump, the federal government has emerged in recent months as this country’s only viable patron of large-scale construction, at least for the foreseeable future.

So here’s an idea: How about taking a careful, critical look at Washington’s recent architectural track record?

A good place to start is D.C.’s new Capitol Visitor Center. In fact, when it comes to the aesthetic and financial perils of government-sponsored architecture, you could hardly invent a more perfect cautionary tale than the one embodied by this grandiose complex sunk into the east side of Capitol Hill. Read More

Neighbourhood News January 12th

The Embassy Edition

Former American Embassy

The Ottawa Citizen
‘It’s a shame it’s still not being used’

The last U.S. ambassador to work across the street from Parliament Hill regrets that his country’s former embassy at 100 Wellington St. lies vacant and unused, when it could be a striking monument to Canadian history.

During the 1990s, Gordon Giffin often watched from his second-floor office as schoolchildren swarmed out of the House of Commons “and had nowhere else to go.”

When the embassy vacated the building, Mr. Giffin suggested to federal cabinet ministers that it would make a great place for the study of Canadian government or history. Read More


Kansas City.com

Kansas City architect of new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad stays quiet about role

The new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has almost everything architects love to talk about: big money, high profile, controversy, historic significance, fascinating location.

So, what’s the reaction from the Kansas City firm involved in designing it?

Nothing, really.

“Really, we’d rather you talked to our partner company,” said Carl Yaeger, president of Berger Devine Yaeger, which came up with the overall look for the largest, most expensive embassy perhaps in world history.

No comment, said that partner, the Berger Group of New Jersey.

Neighbourhood News Jan 7th


How Green Is The White House?

The election of Barack Obama promises a new era of eco-awareness in the US, says Sarah Wachter

These are heady times for environmentalists in America. The initial euphoria of Barack Obama’s White House win hasn’t worn off yet. They say he is the American president with the most clearly-enunciated environmental platform of any in recent memory. Even though the financial crisis has taken centre stage, environmentalists think that’s good news, too, since Obama is talking about creating millions of green jobs to kickstart the spluttering US economy.

“Right now it looks like environment policy is a high priority,” says Bob Bendick, director of government affairs for the Nature Conservancy. “Climate change, the environment, and the health of the planet are interrelated with human welfare and the economy.”
 Read More


The Christian Science Monitor

Cities may sprout vertical farms

This article touches on Dr Despommier’s concept we’ve previously mentioned.

Farming would seem to be a horizontal occupation. Iowa corn or Kansas wheat pokes up from flat fields that stretch to the horizon.

That’s why the idea of “vertical farms” seems ripe for humor. When its biggest advocate appeared on the faux news show “The Colbert Report” earlier this year, comedian Stephen Colbert prefaced the interview by guessing it would have something to do with corn that grows sideways or perhaps “Chia blimps” that float overhead.

Such teasing hasn’t deterred Dickson Despommier, the Col­umbia University professor of public health. He sees putting crops into skyscrapers as a better way to feed a hungry world. Professor Despommier’s website, verticalfarm.com, features architectural concepts of high-rise buildings that could grow fresh produce in urban areas while at the same time being much more environmentally sustainable than conventional agriculture. Read More

Neighbourhood News Jan 5th

dongtanThe Christian Science Montior
In China, overambition reins in eco-city plans

If all had gone to plan, by now the first residents of China’s newest city would be unpacking boxes. An experiment in sustainable living, Dongtan was billed as a urban center where green technologies and smart design could slash the carbon footprint of up to a half-million people.

On recent rainy afternoon, the onsite view was less electrifying: miles of sodden farms and wetlands, and not an ecobuilding to be seen. It’s unclear if any will be built. The state-owned developer has torn up a timetable to accommodate 50,000 residents by 2010. Some permits for the project have already lapsed.  In a country overloaded with environmental challenges, Dongtan is a symbol of political overreach that straddles nearby Shanghai and Britain, the home base of Arup, the firm that dreamed up Dongtan. Its failings show the limits to getting bold ideas off the drawing board, even in China’s top-down political culture, where outsized schemes get traction. Read more

wind-turbThe New York Times
A Cleaner Way to Keep the City Running

FOR centuries, grist-grinders and sailors have exploited the wind. Now, New York developers, homeowners and city leaders might be coming around. A handful of buildings are already drawing electricity from wind turbines, which typically resemble table fans, or mounted airplane propellers.

Unlike some of the skyscraping versions that dot rural hillsides, small turbines supply power directly to homes without first sending it through a utility company’s lines.

One major sticking point in the city is that densely packed buildings tend to scatter breezes, making it tough to capture steady gusts. Although this and other kinks need to be addressed before the widespread rollout of small turbines is possible, there are signs of gains. Read More

Neighbourhood News December 9th


That Old Cape Mod

(The Boston Globe)

A number of early modernist cottages in Wellfleet previously slated for demolition by the National Parks Service will now be preserved via an agreement with the Cape Cod Modern House Trust.

“There’s a lot to learn from these houses. It’s not just about nostalgia. They represent a way of living that’s important; a lifestyle that integrates creativity and nature,” said McMahon. Not only are they small in size, they blend with the landscape, and at one-story, are low to the ground.

gehryThe New Offices of Gehry Partners

(The Architects Newspaper)

Gehry Partners, which has over 160 employees, is moving from its 44,000-square-foot studios in West Los Angeles to the beach side town of El Segundo early next year. Their new campus will add 15,000 square feet of space to an existing 60,000-square-foot complex of 1960s warehouse-style structures on Beatrice Avenue between Utah and Alaska avenues. NSB Associates will develop the property with Gehry Partners.

oslo-operahouseThe New Olso Opera House is a Skate Park in Disguise


The new Oslo Opera House was inspired by the image of two glaciers colliding, the architects at Snøhetta didn’t call on glaciologists to help fine-tune the details. They enlisted real experts in twisted planes: skateboarders. “We spoke to them about surface textures and the areas they prefer,” architect Simon Ewings says. His firm followed up the conversation with a statement in stone.