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Just Don’t

Los Angeles is at a crossroads—don’t let it become New York
Makin’ my way downtown, I zip along on my Lime® scooter through the ersatz Japanese village of Little Tokyo, past taxis, buses, and Prii, to a bustling, small-scale warehouse district on the fringe of Los Angeles’s central core. The whirlwind of scales, land uses, languages, and people is dizzying, but I finally land at my destination: Sonoratown, a lively taco spot famous for its soft tortillas, which are made with flour driven up from Sonora, Mexico, in small batches by the owner’s mom. This delirious, quasi-urban experience is one that could only happen in the messy, diverse urban fabric of Los Angeles. You are free to grab whatever pieces of the kaleidoscopic surroundings you can, and the faster you are moving, the more there is to take. Somehow, this frantic energy and free movement seem unaffected or held back by the past. The cultural critic Sean Monahan called LA the capital of the 2010s, describing it as:
...a city whose attributes anticipate collapse: flat and amorphous, rather than vertical and defined; kitsch and pop, rather than avant-garde and tech; individualistic and mass, rather than institutional and elite. You can suggest San Francisco, HQ of disruption, or New York, backdrop for protest movements (#OWS, #BLM). But both places fail to capture the spirit of the age, because they are fighting so hard to change it. They are relics of empire, unsure of themselves after a decade in which success was indistinguishable from failure… Built on celebrity, media, and lifestyle, L.A. doesn’t presume to be building the future, merely inhabiting it. It’s a pick your poison kind of place. [Go wild] at Chateau Marmont. Spend half your paycheck on inscrutable health food at Erewhon. Commute four hours so you can live in a Riverside McMansion. Drive Uber every day, write screenplays every night. Sell out, drop out, suck up, fuck up. There is no right or wrong way to do L.A.
Monahan accurately describes why Los Angeles encapsulates the present, and why it’s the most exciting place in the US right now. However, it is also important to note where the city is moving in the 2020s. With the 2028 Olympics as a finish line, Los Angeles is at a crossroads, on a path to become a different place in the next decade. But with the city already at the forefront of global media culture (The Kardashians, Moon Juice, Goop, etc.), it doesn’t need global architecture to maintain its position as a worldwide force. How it defines itself as a physical place is still up for grabs, and it should learn lessons from other hyper-globalized cities, namely New York. Tomorrow’s Los Angeles is one of layers. Moving on from its days as a bastion of mythological American modernism centered around mobility (cars), individuality (single-family homes), and triumph over nature (lawns), it will add new collectivities on to itself. These layers will arise from the constant flux of the new: Technologies and emerging social patterns meld nicely into the loose, still-codifying culture and its corresponding urban forms. It is the flickering of new, communal, car-free, publicly subsidized lifestyles against the old, car-centric, low-density, low-regulation, “libertarian” bones of the urban landscape that make it such an interesting place for urbanism today. The oft-bandied-about claim that the city is libertarian is also not entirely accurate, as California is a sea of regulation and red tape, continually votes to raise its already high taxes, and both California and Los Angeles are leading on climate action. The city is quietly building public infrastructure at a pace that vastly outpaces New York. New York’s Second Avenue Subway took somewhere between 10 and 100 years to complete three stations, and the next phase will be three stops and will be completed by 2029 at the earliest. Meanwhile Los Angeles is (optimistically) on course to build 28 new lines by 2028. This includes an airport-connection line that will allow a direct link from LAX to the city. Meanwhile, New York’s MTA is in a worsening crisis with crumbling stations and delays only getting worse, and New Jersey’s NJ Transit recently gave up on accounting for the traffic expected to reach the American Dream Mall, instead calling on private industry to complete the line, citing none other than Los Angeles’s electric rail airport connector as an example. That’s right—L.A. is leading the way in public transit. Meanwhile, Uber, a municipal car share and micro-mobility options such as scooters have already altered how people get around (many young people don’t have cars at all) and where they live, partly due to an explosion in transit-oriented development around the new metro lines. It is unclear exactly how successful, affordable, and sustainable this will be, but change is certainly underway. New transit networks both public and private, along with lower parking requirements for new construction will profoundly impact development and housing typologies in the future. But it is no secret that Los Angeles is careening toward a New York–like affordability crisis (if it isn’t there already) that goes hand-in-hand with the urban whitewash of global capital. Homelessness is at record levels and only getting worse. In response, architects are working to develop new housing typologies, from affordable prototypes and accessory dwelling units, to larger, multi-family schemes that continue to evolve with new regulations and design challenges. The L.A. River and the L.A River Greenway in the San Fernando Valley are also emerging sites of urban experimentation and reclamation/rehabilitation of greenspace. Los Angeles has a unique architectural culture and urban fabric, but red flags are emerging. First, Bjarke Ingels Group and Herzog & de Meuron, international firms that are both very popular with the New York development community, have projects downtown. Related Group (of Hudson Yards fame) has moved in and is developing a large Frank Gehry project across from Gehry’s own Disney Concert Hall. It perfectly illustrates the lower design quality of developer-led construction and echoes Related Companies’ other project, Hudson Yards: “The project is anchored by a central plaza wrapped with shopping areas and public art.” The biggest red flag might be the shortlist for the La Brea Tar Pits project. In Miracle Mile’s Museum Row, a neighborhood that already has been marred by architectural globalists—once by KPF and twice by Renzo Piano—the shortlist for the La Brea master plan is New York establishment firms WEISS/MANFREDI and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, along with Danish firm Dorte Mandrup. It is a truly odd and troubling list. All three are talented firms, but their selection signals the wind turning toward a placeless architecture where, in California terms, “there is no there there,” reflecting classic donor-class aesthetics. Don’t even get me started on what director Michael Govan and the LACMA board are doing to push through their new building. Joseph Giovannini said it best:
In a sleight of hand that still has serious consequences for LACMA and Los Angeles, Govan introduced [Peter] Zumthor, the architect who presumably could achieve this world-class building, to his Board of Trustees. There was no competition, no public review or discussion, no transparency, just a shoo-in of the architect who had arrived in Los Angeles in Govan’s back pocket. “It won’t be the seventh Renzo Piano building in the country,” Govan explained to me in an interview. “We’ll have the only Zumthor.” …Had he even made it into a normal architect selection process, the jury might have concluded that he was mismatched and dangerously underequipped for the commission.
Some Angelenos say that local architects should get their due. L.A. has been defined in many ways by outsiders such as Neutra and Schindler, but also by local legends like Thom Mayne and Frank Gehry, as well as a younger generation like Barbara Bestor, Michael Maltzan, and a host of others who can deliver top-notch design. Los Angeles doesn't need the continental, polite, same-as-everywhere architecture that plagues institutions around the world. The architecture scene has always valued experimentation and allowed younger, more avant-garde approaches and diverse practices to gain ground, outside of the institutional weight that plagues places like the East Coast. It is not “provincial”—as some claim—to want to preserve this well-established local flavor while moving forward. In fact, what would be provincial is thinking that it is necessary to look outward for world-class architecture, or that a mythical global culture needs to be imported for the city to become a world-class place. Nothing defines the periphery like the center, and nothing makes one more provincial than defining oneself against New York. Of course, outside architects can come in and add to the culture; it just takes a bit of judgment. For instance, Spanish firm SelgasCano’s bright, breezy, kit-of-parts style seems to fit with L.A.’s pop modernist aesthetic, and Arata Isozaki’s MOCA has also become an iconic part of L.A. architecture. So let L.A. be regional and different. Don’t let it succumb to the pressures of global capital and “global architecture.” Don’t let Boyle Heights—a strong Latino neighborhood under development pressure, with several buildings already being renovated—become Hudson Yards. New York City has been ruined by capital, which was weaponized to take away the grittiness of places like Times Square, a project of Ed Koch and eventually of Rudy Guiliani. Later, technocrat billionaire Michael Bloomberg finished the sanitization of the city with sloppy rezonings of Williamsburg, West Chelsea, and Long Island City most notably, which ushered in the era of bland office towers and mega mall-like sterility. Developers like President Donald Trump and Related Companies, along with their elected enablers like Bloomberg and Guiliani have shared class interests that threaten the small-scale, local and regional urban landscapes where artists, immigrants, and the working class foment culture. How can Los Angeles be a laboratory for resisting the entropic, hegemonic cancer that is global capital, the global donor class, and the donor-class aesthetic? One tactic, and to be fair, something that the Bloomberg administration got right in places like Brooklyn and Staten Island, is downzoning to preserve the character of neighborhoods. This is also tricky and can lead to NIMBYism, which L.A. has certainly had its share of recently. In a similar vein, Thom Mayne provocatively suggested clustering development on the Wilshire corridor in order to protect other areas. The Wilshire area has seen some development, but not at the scale Mayne has suggested. Additionally, serious and innovative criticism is needed. Critics must not fall into 20th-century modes of operating; they have to get out in front of these debacles rather than react to them. There are a host of critics operating in Los Angeles, and no one is better positioned to have an impact than former L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne, who is now in a unique role as the Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles, a position where he is literally helping craft RFPs (request for proposals). As long as Hawthorne is able to be heard in the government and in the public and can surround himself with good people who will help guide L.A. through this crucial time, there is a real opportunity to have more and more expert opinions in the process that will avoid the disasters that haunt New York. This, along with more equitable and compensated juried design competitions, can help the people who make financial decisions make "better" aesthetic and cultural decisions. Regionalism, when connected to local ecology, provokes more interesting and nuanced design than a totalizing, global aesthetic. In terms of what resistance might look like outside of design review, Los Angeles is already taking on challenges in a unique way. In Boyle Heights, gentrifying art galleries have been pushed out by strong neighborhood coalitions demanding affordable housing and neighborhood services. Los Angeles could also adopt anti-gentrification policies such as rent control or downzoning to prevent the displacement of both residential and retail spaces. Many cities have adopted such plans, while Berlin and other cities have enacted rent freezes and other regulations on the housing market to ensure affordability. Los Angeles in many ways is the logical conclusion of the myth of the American West. Several time zones and thousands of miles in distance from New York and other global cities, it has historically been connected to global culture through mass media, not physical space. This isolation has left it to its own devices as an urban place. This doesn’t need to change as it grows into more of a global force. New forms and ways of living can be cultivated without abandoning what makes it a special place: its resistance to the forces of the outside. In the 2020s, defining a new localism would be quite an amazing achievement.
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PEKULIARI

MU Architecture designs a paleo-futuristic tower for remote Canadian forest
Montreal-based MU Architecture has unveiled its design for a "paleo-futuristic" tower set in the middle of a Canadian forest. Hovering 670 feet above the hilly landscape of western Quebec, PEKULIARI toes the line between looking like a relic from the past—totemic—and embodying the architecture of the near future.  The seven-year-old firm, which is mainly known for its sculptural, high-end residential projects, envisioned the organically-shaped skyscraper for the Outaouais region, just north of the Ottawa River, as a luxury development that connects people directly with nature. In an email conversation with AN, MU Architecture founders Jean-Sébasten Herr and Charles Côté said they first visited the 15,000,000-square-foot site this summer. "[It] totally impregnated us with the immensity and strength of the forest," they said. "The site literally inspired the stacking; it was the only relevant solution for the project. As if the structure had always been there and nature, in time, only took back its place."  According to the architects, PEKULIARI is an indulgent nature retreat far away from the stressors of urban life and the concept is meant to both immerse guests in the wild while providing them with high-end comforts. For example, its podium, meant to resemble a large pile of rocks, will eventually invite guests into a three-story lobby where they can access a concierge to equip them with food and gear for venturing out into the forest. The rest of the 48-story structure, created using parametric design software, will house 50 luxury units, conference rooms for business and entertainment, a cigar lounge and bar, and a rooftop pool, gym, and spa—all packed within the exoskeletal-like frame that holds up its crystalline facade.  It’s an extravagant development, no doubt, and will span 326,000 square feet of space total. However, the building isn’t meant to take away from the land, said Herr and Côté. They noted the land surrounding the structure will become a Private Natural Reserve, making the property owners in charge of protecting the local wildlife (although the construction of the tower itself may likely displace or disrupt the forest's natural rhythm). Intentionally or not, the project invites comparisons to the Danish Bestseller Tower, which will place a supertall skyscraper in the middle of a pastoral town. From the outside, the tower will take on an earthy feel, blending into the forested region. The cellular exterior panels will be multi-toned in order to enhance the reflections from the sun. From the inside, the boreal landscape is nearly unobstructed by the building’s presence; several cutouts in the facade allow for panoramic views. Other features include an underground parking garage with a “bat cave-type hidden entrance in the woods,” according to the architects, and a massive wine cellar and indoor shooting range. In an interview last month with La Press, Herr and Côté said they like a “touch of strangeness and mystery” about their projects. The element of surprise becomes a key part of their designs—hence why PEKULIARI emerges from the middle of nowhere. As the only non-urban structure among their current tower projects, (the other two are located in downtown Montreal), the building supposedly represents the studio's aim to "overcome the near-impossible."  "The possibility of designing a unique skyscraper in the middle of the forest follows MU Architecture’s philosophy to design outstanding architecture that moves people and creates unlived experiences, " said Herr.   
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We Live, We Die.

WeWork is imploding. What happened to its plan to redesign the world?
“Everything we do at WeWork should be done with intent and meaning for maximum impact,” said Adam Neumann, the recently ousted CEO and cofounder of WeWork, in a 2018 blog post. “This starts with every space for every member and scales to every building in every city. In 2018, we want to have an impact on the buildings we occupy. In 2019, it will be the neighborhoods WeWork is part of, and by 2020, the cities we live in.”  This bombast was characteristic of the businessman known equally for his tequila-fueled screaming bouts and Kabbalah-enhanced executive meetings, whose oversized persona in many ways came to define the company. To meet the megalomaniacal goal of a WeWorld as well as the more quotidian needs of making flexible office spaces, the We Company amassed a large team of architects, designers, and technologists through both hiring and acquisitions. The company was itself cofounded by an architect, Miguel McKelvey, who WeWork’s former director of research claimed rather hyperbolically in a 2015 interview in Architect built a lot of the original WeWorks with his bare hands.” McKelvey remains WeWork’s chief culture officer. This cultish blind faith is—or was—characteristic of WeWork acolytes. In the wake of a botched attempt to take the We Company public, exposés on Neumann’s excessive spending, unpredictable behavior, and self-dealing, and revelations that the company was more or less out of cash and has little prospect of turning a profit in the near future, confidence has flagged, even among true believers. Once valued at $47 billion, and after an infusion of cash from SoftBank which included an unprecedented $1.7 billion “golden parachute” for Neumann to leave his post, the We Company is now worth "just" $8 billion.  WeGrow, the company’s foray into for-profit education led by the former CEO’s wife, Rebekah Paltrow Neumann (cousin to Gweneth Paltrow), will close at the end of the academic year. The fate of its other numerous side projects, such as Rise by We, a gym, and the housing initiative WeLive( which is currently under investigation in New York City for possibly illegally operating as a hotel) are uncertain. WeWork is also likely to divest from the high-profile conversion of the former Lord & Taylor building in midtown. But perhaps most distressingly, the company is expected to lay off as many as 4,000 people this fall, according to some estimates, with untold more to come. But even those plans have been hampered: the company can’t afford to pay severance. Suffice it to say, it doesn’t look like we’ll all be living in WeCities in 2020. With WeWork shedding its properties and staff and finding itself on less steady ground day by day, what does that mean for the company’s architects? Uncertainty reigns.“It’s been disheartening to find things out through media instead of the company itself,” said one WeWork employee to AN (the company declined to comment on whether those layoffs might include architects and other design employees). Designer Dror Benshetit, who was hired for WeWork’s “Future Cities Initiative” in partnership with Di-Ann Eisnor, formerly of Waze, has been sacked along with his team, according to current and former employees. Fashion designer Adam Kimmel, former chief creative officer, has just stepped down. Most of the architecture and technology higher-ups from Case, the design tech company that WeWork acquired in 2015, have departed in the past several months, including Federico Negro, WeWork's former head of design, and David Fano, former chief growth officer, who left in October. That said, architects inside the company who were willing to speak to The Architect’s Newspaper reported feeling relatively secure in their positions. Creating workspaces is WeWork’s core enterprise, and employees have noted that at conferences given by executives, the work of the architects at the We Company has been largely praised. However, the constant uncertainty and erratic nature of the business has driven many to leave the company in advance of any possible layoffs. Others are staying, some with the hope of cashing in on severance deals, not of keeping a job in the long term. “I find it sad that the person who made this business happen was an architect, but it was his business partner who ruined it,” lamented one WeWork employee, speaking of McKelvey and Neumann, respectively. Building WeWork Founded in 2010, WeWork’s design ambitions became clear in 2015 when the company acquired Case, a high-tech Building Information Modeling consultancy. This made sense: WeWork is more or less a real estate company masquerading as a Silicon Valley-style startup. It owns very little of the buildings it occupies, including the much-talked-about Dock 72 that just opened in the Brooklyn Navy Yards, which The New York Times reports is still largely empty. Instead, it leases spaces, then redesigns them and offers them up as flexible rentals to other businesses—from brand new startups to tech giants like Facebook and IBM to legacy publications like the Atlantic The biggest news was, well, BIG. In 2018, WeWork named Bjarke Ingels its “chief architect,” an unprecedented move for a company like WeWork. But it spoke to its ostensible high-minded design goals. Ingels’s firm BIG did design the Manhattan WeGrow, as well as other projects. However, current and former employees who requested not to be named for fear of reprisal reported that most of Ingels’s actual architectural responsibilities had been delegated to Michel Rojkind, the architect who serves as WeWork’s senior vice president of architecture (Rojkind could not be reached for comment). “It wasn’t anything more than a marketing thing,” said one former WeWork employee of Ingels’s appointment. Ingels reportedly receives no salary, having opted instead for compensation in equity alone, a regrettable move in light of recent events. (Representatives for Bjarke Ingels and BIG declined to comment for this story.) It wasn’t just notable names—WeWork hired architects, lighting designers, project managers, and other design professionals by the dozen. “There was a lot of hand-wringing early on about how many architects were leaving the industry to work at WeWork, and there was a fear that WeWork was sucking up the best architectural minds,” recalled one former employee. The company also formed another architectural spinoff, Powered by We, which brought its know-how for designing workspaces to external corporate clients, like the Swiss bank UBS. Insiders report the division has yet to turn a profit. But despite all the present-day disorder and uncertainty, many employees are happy to stay. “I don’t want to work at a normal architecture office,” said one architect who spoke on condition of anonymity. “ As tumultuous and crazy as the year has been for the whole company, I think it’s a good thing that they disrupted architecture practice; it’s an industry that needs some disruption.” “At an architecture office you’re not encouraged to try other projects or make it better; it’s just, ‘This is the system, this is how we do it,’” the employee added. But WeWork lets architects ask, “How do we make things better rather than just following traditions?”—something they didn’t feel able to do in traditional architecture offices. WeWork’s ability to “disrupt” architecture is due not just to some vaulted startup ethos nor its ability to pay higher salaries. Another meaningful difference is who the designers work for; WeWork is its own client. While it may work with architects of record and contractors, for the most part, WeWork’s architectural labor supply chain is vertically integrated. Everyone from the lighting designer to the architectural software engineers are on staff.  There is also a hope that former WeWork architects might bring this new perspective with them when they return to the industry and that the industry might respond, for example, by putting technology on the same level as other aspects of design. “Architects have a lot to offer, but it’s time to take risks. We need to learn to want more for ourselves and for the industry.” Buildings = Data  Beyond all the hype surrounding the company, at least one of its divisions was living up to the Silicon Valley unicorn moniker that investors had ascribed to it. A former WeWork employee described the architectural software arm of the company as “One of the more technically advanced offices in the entire AEC [Architecture, Engineering, and Construction] sphere.” The employee went on to say, “We’ve got a pretty intelligent system around BIM, around data, around workflow and processes.” These developments happened relatively behind the scenes, though hardly secretly. WeWork regularly published blog posts about its use of 3-D laser scanning, machine learning, and data collection.  This architectural brain power, along with easy access to new BIM and parametric technology, did, in fact, give WeWork an edge in its core business: designing office spaces. It’s as a design practice that WeWork could truly be understood as an innovator. To be clear, it isn’t in the often-mimicked design aesthetic of its office spaces—with its exposed brick, neon signs, midcentury modern knockoffs, and formaldehyde-expelling phone booths. What is new is how WeWork has been able to design with tremendous efficiency at scale in part thanks to its voraciously collected user data. Similar to the way social media companies harvest untold amounts of data on their billions of users, WeWork was swimming in data on the workers occupying its office spaces around the world. In February, some WeWork employees had begun wearing shirts that said, “Buildings equal data.” The largest office leaseholder in New York City was using data to shape everything from what buildings to rent to how to lay them out. Through a variety of tools, WeWork was harvesting its tenants data the way Facebook exploits its users—as unwitting sources for generating new, targeted services to generate even more revenue. WeWork embedded sensors in conference rooms and phone booths, tracked “user behavior” on its app, and tested out computer vision and location beacon systems. “Imagine a conference room that can tell you how it feels, that understands what the inhabitants might be feeling,” said a company blog post that asked, “What would the Google Analytics of buildings look like?” Last year, WeWork used virtual reality headsets and EEG brainwave monitors to see how people responded to different “vibes.” For example, “Spaces with more natural light and brighter finishes are associated with significantly higher levels of focus and interest.” While WeWork wanted to collect users' general emotional response—one test subject described wearing the headset as “empowering”—its central interest, of course, was creating environments ideal for work. Of course, WeWork, along with tech companies and creative firms, has created a new sort of standard which other companies want. “A lot of corporate America works in environments that are stifling and boring,” said one Powered by We employee. “Retaining and hiring young staff has been hard for them. [Powered by We] is a way of changing a workplace by changing the interiors.” With this data, WeWork claims it was not only able to make the design and building management process more efficient and targeted, but also able to introduce new custom automation into its design of its mass-produced office spaces. They are often created from a sort of kits of parts—which included pre-determined selections of wallpaper, kitchen fittings, furnishings, etc.—inside the many buildings the company has leased, or less frequently, owned. WeWork had also developed custom software to help the company’s designers automate desk arrangements throughout their spaces. More desks means more money, after all. Recently, in the Avery Review, philosopher Mathew Stewart referred to WeWork’s space layout algorithm as “One tool in the now endless surge of automated BIM options that aims to make the bureaucratic processes of architecture more efficient, calculable and less labor-intensive.” He added, “This produces a mystified process that hides the social and political character of design decisions. The contemporary production of architecture is a complex global web of supply chains, logistics, labor, and legal and political infrastructures.” Some former WeWork employees disputed this characterization. In a company blog, former senior researcher Andrew Heumann said that they just want to get rid of the “tasks that are the most tedious and repetitious.” However, design at WeWork was arguably a relatively simple problem, one in which automation could easily be introduced without tremendous technological innovation. Offices may be different shapes, but at the end of the day, they’re relatively consistent spaces. One Powered by We architect suggested that “WeWork Classic” architects weren’t “challenged.” “I would assume their job is quite boring,” the employee said. “It’s just based on efficiencies.” Multiple things can be true at once. While WeWork likely overstates its technical prowess in order to boost its legitimacy as a “startup,” and while other companies also use data collection to inform design, building, and usage in their offices, its proprietary BIM tools and automation technologies may have unforeseen, significant impacts on how architects design, especially as more and more well-qualified architects, designers, and tech professionals exit WeWork to create their own startups or work at other companies or traditional firms. If expanded beyond the simple constraints of aesthetically-unified office design, new automation tools could free up designers to do more interesting, innovative things beyond building mechanics and interior layouts. Or, as so often happens under a capitalist logic consumed with “optimization” above all else, they may just cause a flattening of design difference, ushering a new Algorithmic Realism in architecture. Perhaps WeWork will take over the world after all. At least there’s happy hour.
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Well Lived

Denise Scott Brown memorializes Robert Venturi
Below is a transcription of Denise Scott Brown's comments at the June 15 memorial service for the late Robert Venturi at the University of Pennsylvania's Fisher Fine Arts Library. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. It’s lovely to see you all. There are some recent friends and also people I hadn’t seen since 1960. One came up, a planner: I once said to him, “That’s not suitable for high school, it’s not even suitable for elementary school,” and I wondered what he became. He said, “well I have been the ambassador to Burundi.” That makes me so happy. He was wonderful then and obviously is now. Bill, who lived in our basement, has talked about Bob in the studio. We’d hear him say, “This is a terrible idea… but wait, let’s see.” He would rather take it up than say, “oh no, we couldn’t do that.” But he might say, “I haven’t understood the system of the building yet.” Few people knew he thought that way or knew his strong ability to go from analysis to synthesis over and again—to be extremely rigorous. But I respected him for it. I’m happy we are holding this memorial here, because the Furness library has been such an important place for us. Bob and I met here. But he had, in fact, saw Robert Scott Brown and me at a presentation our planning studio made to Lou Kahn in 1959. He was very impressed by Robert, who had stayed up one night until 3 a.m. with Bill Alonso who had taught him rent theory, so Robert could explain how roads influence the design of buildings and cities. I had merely noted that Lou Kahn had with him a young assistant. And then within two weeks Robert was killed. I went back home and returned to Penn in the fall a sad, young widow. But I graduated and started teaching in 1960, and within the first week or so there was a faculty meeting. At the AA you as a student could enter anyone’s jury. I had done this at Penn, and that was another reason Bob knew me slightly. And at the faculty meeting I did it again. “Why are you taking this building down?” I asked. I had seen in London the Horniman Museum and Whitechapel Gallery of the architect Townsend, and the Furness Library, especially its scale jumps, reminded me of them. I was very interested in scale jumps, and the Mannerism they were part of. Seen as aberrant, Mannerism was reappraised in England in the 1940s. Nicholas Pevsner, its rediscoverer, and one of his students, here tonight, and also John Summerson, guided me through Mannerism. I listened two years running to Summerson’s AA lectures on Classicism, travelled in England, France and Italy, with Pevsner’s book and Robin Middleton’s itinerary, and learned a great deal. Bob grew up in Philadelphia. He was a moony little child. His parents took him out of Quaker school when they found his desk in the corridor outside the classroom. He was apparently talking too much. An old teacher friend of his mother said, “send him to a structured and disciplined place,” That was Episcopal Academy. “I went there,” Bob said, “and went underground.” The school was suitable—structured, disciplined, but very kind. And we love Jim Squires, our client for its chapel. But there were only two little Italian boys in the school, and in history class, the teacher said, “immigrants from the North were preferable to those from the South.” Bob and I shared that. I had to put up with anti-Semitism at my prep school in South Africa. But I believe that being different—having skewed views—is useful to creative people. Our wayward eyes quickly joined forces, we shared mannerism and being marginal. This made for a very interesting five years that few knew we had shared. The going story is that Bob went to Rome, discovered Mannerism in the library, came back, and started to do it. Yes, he learned about it in Rome, but 12 days before he left. And can you imagine Bob sitting in the library when the whole of Rome is outside to explore? I’ve seen him in Rome, visited churches with him many times. And all those, they were baroque churches. He went where Giedion sent him. He saw a jillion little towns—hill towns—all over. And he got to Egypt with friends. When was the time to do all that reading? But about twelve days before he left, Jim and Sally Gresham took Bob and Chuck Brickbauer to see the work of Armando Brasini on the outskirts of Rome. He was a fascist, still living in his remarkable palazzo, and Bob visited him. Back in America, he [Bob] had lots to do. His Dad was very ill. He had to run the fruit and produce business, which we later ran together. It was three blocks from the architecture office. Long-haired, egg-head fruit merchant—that’s part of him—Princeton gentleman with a southern Italian opera background. It was these mixtures that we started with. And Dave Crane said, “Denise you should marry Bob Venturi, and I’ll invite you both to dinner.” By the time he did, we had already had dinner. We started by going to his office and seeing his designs, then he took me to a Princeton ball game. Bob went to a “ball game” by going to the library while the ball game was played, and when it was over, his friends wouldn’t tell him who had won. But in the library, I found Lutyens’ four volumes on his houses. I had had two years of lectures on Mannerism with Summerson, and had traveled to Venice using Robin Middleton’s list of buildings and paintings to see on the way to Venice and then on to Rome. And, though we had a lot to share, Bob had not seen those books. I said, “You mean you’re interested in Lutyens and you haven’t seen these?” Well, he went and bought them and within two weeks he knew them better than I did. He was thrilled with what I had learned, and I was equally thrilled with what he learned from two years of lecture with Donald Drew Egbert at Princeton. At Penn, we taught consecutive semesters of a theories course, surveying architecture, landscape architecture, and planning. Mine was an overview of them all with selected faculty from each department, introducing their field and their interests. I gave one lecture, but my role was to pull it all together. Although I was a faculty member, Holmes treated me as a TA. I had to give out photographs on boards for students to draw from, because learning to draw was part of this course, as well as learning some modern architectural classics. Soon I was getting killed by my class. “Don’t you see that we’re graduate students!” So I broke the rules and defined my job as linking theory and practice via drawing as Holmes had wanted, but having them choose their examples and analyzing them via the subject matter of the lecture to lead toward studio design problems. We shared them with each other and with Bob. He was running the Spring semester course on theories of architecture. As Holmes said, “You went to Princeton, you know history.” But the underlying message was, you didn’t go to Harvard so you won’t be staying here long, and it applied to both of us. Meanwhile, teaching together, putting our two courses together, was all sorts of fun. And that’s what Bob was mainly doing. The archive here at Penn is full of his notes. Now he sat in this library all the time, working 80 hours a week finding slides and reading on the very wide topics he used to augment the Vitruvian components of architecture from three to fifteen and giving a lecture on one each week, surveying how different eras of architecture, for example, how light was let into buildings. Robert Scott Brown and I had done a great deal of photography while traveling. We spent a month photographing in Venice, seeing what we were doing as making a record to take home to South Africa. But it grew on route to showing ideas through photography. At Penn, I used mine for teaching. Then I said, “Hey Bob, I’ve got slides that you can use for your lecture on scale.” We began sharing photographs and helpful book references. Then Bob, having seen the connections I was making between theory and studio for my course, asked me to devise equivalent work topics for his. Eventually, I did so formally by running the tutorials for both courses during the last semester, we collaborated at Penn. I ran the tutorials, the drawing and research exercises, and the link to studio. And the next place you’ll find that type of work is in the programs for the Learning from Las Vegas studio. Later I learned that when we left Penn, the performance in studio went way down, because research-design connections were no longer made. So that’s the story from one side. On the other were the planners. They were like Rabbinical students jumping up on the tables and arguing, and I argued with them. I also argued with Paul Davidoff, without leaving my seat. We occupied two small rooms across a corridor from each other in a basement studio. We merely leaned over to argue from our seats and across the corridor and groups of students would form around the doors to listen. Then we might go upstairs to the coffee machine and a larger group might form. As far as I could see, that was the only time planners and architects willingly came together. But the strength of the planning school was a wonderful strength for me and the basis for connections between Las Vegas and architecture that Bob and I later made, and things like that. Bob was fascinated by the social planners. His mother was a socialist and a pacifist, so he could hear Paul Davidoff when he said, “Why do you have to go as far as Ville Radieuse, the city isn’t that bad. It’s pretty good. It’s almost all right.” And that’s where Bob got, “Is not main street almost all right?” that comes from Paul. Bob was very open to what was going on in my West Philadelphia studio and the planning school in general. But no one else in architecture was interested at that time. So when I went to Las Vegas, Bob was the only colleague I invited to come with me. And when planning his theories course, delved with my help into urban and planning thought. And I could help with early Modernism. His research files in the archive, contain a note saying “Function and beauty, Denise.” He is not saying I epitomize both. He says, “remember what she had to say about how the early Modern functionalists saw that relationship,” and he included my information in his lecture on function. I’m more than pleased to explain to you what Bob meant and also how I saw my role of linking architecture and planning, as that of a circus horse rider as the horses spread apart. But sadly Nixonism and Reganism separated architecture and planning until connection was almost impossible to make. It still is. Other things happened, so it didn’t work that way, but architects took strongly to these ideas as published in Learning from Las Vegas and turned them creatively to their own talents to something that designers could use and love. I have wanted to show you that our first five years of collaboration were an amazingly happy time. That’s what I was so happy about. And I’m happy about the rest, though our careers were a long, slow, gently sloping motion. And Bob, for much of his career, felt like Milton in his sonnet, “On His Blindness,” where, “that one talent which is death to hide, / Lodg’d with me useless.” Bob was a frustrated young architect because he could design so much more than he was hired to do. But slowly we built up, and eventually one day, after arguing with ourselves, we realized we really had achieved what we wanted to achieve. And sure, thirty of our projects could fit into one of I.M. Pei’s, but I feel I.M., an architect I much respect, would have liked to be the architect of the National Gallery. Just before he died, Bob said to me, “I’m a very, very old man.” And he was. And he thought he would die at the age his father had died, 69. And he was happy indeed at all that had happened despite our problems. You’ve told us how wonderful it’s been having us in your lives. And I’m telling you how terribly important you are to ours.
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How many Utopian Hours are in a day?

A city making festival in Turin asks citizens to dream bigger
From October 18 through 20, students, architects, planners, politicians, and hordes of normal citizens all descended on Turin, Italy, to engage in talks, panels, workshops, and exhibitions at the third annual Utopian Hours festival. The name is a clever play on words; pulling the “nostra” from the middle of Torino Stratosferica, the nonprofit cultural body behind the event, results in “ours,” making the actual name of the festival more about imagining a utopian future for ourselves during that time. This year’s festival was held on the multipurpose campus of the Lavazza Coffee headquarters, offering ample space for the quickly growing event. Even before one entered La Centrale, a towering power-plant-turned-events-space, visitors were met with freestanding didactics featuring snippets of the ideas to expect within. Once inside, a sprawling exhibition floor presented visions of possible future Turins from local studios, as well as a series of low-cost placemaking interventions intended to be dropped in neighborhoods around the city. Upstairs, the festival’s organizers had set up a retrospective for the 100th birthday of Paolo Soleri, curated by Emanuele Piccardo, that tracked the Turin-born architect’s career and evolution in his thinking. Of course, civic engagement and the exchange of ideas were a central goal, and each of the festival’s three days began with activities to get participants involved. On Friday, that meant kicking off the event with a “Circular Economy Workshop” intended to make visitors brainstorm ideas for creating a more “circular,” sustainable Turin. On Saturday, Play the City started the day with an interactive workshop on using play and games to reimagine urban areas (the group would return with a presentation on their work in Amsterdam on Sunday), followed by a workshop on designing for the Turin of 2030, with the youth and elderly of the future in mind. Sunday changed things up with the chance to grab a more intimate breakfast with Jan Rudkiewicz of Werklig, the studio behind Helsinki’s rebranding; participants were encouraged to ask him about the intersection of culture within a city and institutional projects. The line-up was top-notch, as speakers from all over the world offered lectures and panels in both Italian and English. That included two mayors: Chiara Appendino, the mayor of Turin, who spoke at the “How is the Turin of our desires?” panel, and the current architect-turned-mayor of Bratislava, Slovakia, Matúš Vallo, who sat in conversation with Feargus O'Sullivan of CityLab for “How To Become The Mayor.” The shift in perspective throughout the festival, from discussions of institutional, top-down approaches to city-making, to how activists can make local, small-scale changes and advance their causes with grassroots support, provided comprehensive examples of how urban activists made people power work for them. Other discussions of note included a lecture from architectural photographer Iwan Baan on how to change one’s perception of the city, and how he approaches his work. Patrik Gustavsson of the Amager Bakke Foundation discussed the path to funding and ultimately realizing the skiable Copenhill in Copenhagen. AN web editor Jonathan Hilburg sat in conversation with Laurie Hawkinson of Smith-Miller + Hawkinson and Emily Bauer of Bau Land on how to “Make New York Livable Again,” no small task. With a mandate that big, the panel leaned heavily towards the topic of climate resiliency and flood mitigation; literally keeping the city livable. While New York is an international city and the myriad problems it faces are present in every large city, the task of informing a European city about the particulars of our own issues proved refreshing, if not daunting. One of the couldn’t-miss talks followed shortly after, as Alfredo Brillembourg of Urban-Think Tank (U-TT) delivered a fiery rebuke to the “one-size-fits-all” approach taken by many architects and urban thinkers today. Brillembourg ran down a list of the hyper-site-specific interventions U-TT had taken around the world in the last 20 years, including a cable car system through the slums of Caracas, Venezuela, and resident-led housing densification in the poorest parts of South Africa. Complementing the Soleri exhibition upstairs was what might be considered the centerpiece talk of Utopian Hours, “Paolo Soleri. From Turin to the desert,” a deep dive into the late architect’s utopian vision and thought process. Perhaps the most interesting additions to the festival, and the ones that elevate it above similar conferences, are the urban explorers. Three speakers who had never been to Turin before were invited to the city four days before the rest of the guests had arrived and given the chance to walk the city. Then, over separate days, they relayed what they had learned to festivalgoers and offered suggestions on what the city could do better. All three speakers were accompanied by flashy videos Torino Stratosferica had produced, tracking each urban explorer as they meandered around the city. Why were the urban explorers so important? Their inclusion lent the festival an “on-the-ground” feel, one of lived-in experience. It’s easy to research a place, but much more difficult to actually tackle it firsthand. Utopian Hours managed to draw an enormous crowd of engaged, thoughtful attendees who weren’t afraid to offer up questions or their own take on the material. The suggested €5 ($5.50) admission fee probably helped lure in curious passersby, and that’s certainly a good thing. Let’s hope the Utopian Hours festival make a fourth appearance. AN is an official media partner of Utopian Hours.
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Delinquent in Dubai

We need to tell America’s best story in the Middle East
With Expo 2020 Dubai only one year away, we are at a crisis point to create a world-class pavilion to represent the best of the American people at the first World Expo in the Middle East. Architecturally brilliant US pavilions had been globally admired during America’s Cold War foreign policy efforts. As an architect and documentary filmmaker who filmed America's abandonment of World’s Fairs through poor architectural design efforts in Face of a Nation, it is vitally important for me to share how a disintegration we’ve ignored for decades negatively impacts our American image abroad and endangers our hopeful vision of democracy. The story of our U.S.A pavilion captures the commercialization of our national interests. The defunding and abolition of a strategic part of our foreign policy, the United States Information Agency (USIA), in 1999 marked the end of design excellence as a tenet of representing the American people at important public diplomacy events. Our research documents the failures of when privatization totally takes over our public interests. Why is federal funding necessary for design excellence? Other countries demonstrate that they know the value of these events by paying for their own pavilions. Despite Reagan’s promise for “the energy and genius of the American people” at Expo ’92 in Seville, Spain, Congress blocked funds for the U.S.A Pavilion and we axed our American architect. The State Department scrambled to find “two exhibit buildings in moth-balls” for a makeshift pavilion the Spanish press maligned as “the American bra.” But architects know this message is most profoundly delivered through architecture. Congress eliminated the USIA (responsible for U.S.A. Pavilions overseas) in 1999 after we thought we had won the Cold War—ending public-sector support and beginning the battle of ‘who should pay.’ Debacles at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo and 2015 Milan World Expo are evidence enough that pure private-sector funding is a recipe for trouble. Shanghai’s U.S. Pavilion locked visitors inside and wasn’t even designed by an American architect! The richest country in the world didn’t raise enough to pay for Milan’s U.S. Pavilion, so the American companies who created it suffered significant financial losses. Diminishing World’s Fairs as “just trade fairs” and lauding public-private sector partnerships, the federal government has forced the private money to pay for our international exhibitions for the last 25 years. But public-private partnerships only work when the public sector pays as well. Other countries believe World’s Fairs are more than “just trade fairs,” with an important public diplomacy role, by engaging people around the world. More than 60 years after the USIA’s founding principles were defined "to understand, inform and influence foreign publics" about American ideas and values, our practice appears to be antagonizing the world instead. Rather than “winning hearts and minds” with face-to-face communication in “the last 3 feet,” our generation is tweeting, chatting, or cyber-bullying each other over thousands of miles. Most people don’t know the potency of our senses in the brick and mortar world. Architects use design excellence to kindle the viewer's emotions; a powerful persuasion without words. Innovative design captures futuristic visions of hope, effecting optimism and industry for generations to come. Awe-inspiring examples of the power of World’s Fair architecture influencing people for hundreds of years include the Crystal Palace and the Eiffel Tower. Our film follows the late Jack Masey, a U.S. foreign service officer/behind-the-scenes genius whose vision shaped the most innovative U.S.A. Pavilions from USIA’s early years. These pavilions inspired nations with a better idea about who we are as a people; including the setting for the 1959 Kitchen Debate, Buckminster Fuller’s Expo ’67 geodesic dome (inspiring Disney’s Epcot), and Davis Brody’s Expo ’70 air-inflatable—the largest in the world, where the Apollo 11 moon rock was shown. By the late 20th Century, U.S. trade interests had unconsciously projected a corporate, consumer image of American values and culture. The 21st Century saw the development of the internet, social media, and new digital platforms for people to communicate in cyberspace. These realms convinced many that international gatherings like World’s Fairs were costly, wasteful, and obsolete. No one anticipated they might become “virtual spaces” to spread false narratives about America. Going to the World’s Fair with design excellence is not only a chance to defend our American image in “real space,” but an opportunity to engage the world in the wonder we inspired when we did things right. American design excellence must be used to deflect the attempts to diminish our democracy. We must tell our story better to the world. It took a bipartisan Congress to underestimate the importance of design. It will take bipartisan Congressional support to fund and fix it. Special appropriations through Congress were essential to do things right during the Cold War, and federal funds are critical again to safeguard our vision of democracy. Because architecture reflects who we are. If we ignore what we see, we lose sight of our own vision. What keeps our dream alive? Going to the World’s Fair with our best American design talent might make all the difference. Mina Chow, AIA, is a documentary filmmaker, founder and principal of mc² SPACES, and an adjunct associate professor at the USC School of Architecture.
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Pitted Against the Law

Judge rules Brad Pitt could be sued over poorly-built New Orleans homes
A federal judge has ruled that actor Brad Pitt will remain a defendant in a case against his housing nonprofit, the Make It Right Foundation. Last November, the Ad Astra-star and other directors of the organization, which was founded in 2007 to build affordable homes after Hurricane Katrina, asked the court to remove their names from a class-action lawsuit filed by two homeowners who claim shoddy construction. One hundred and nine pieces of experimental and sustainable architecture from Make It Right popped up in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward through 2015, an area devastated by the 2005 hurricane and its subsequent flooding. Renowned design firms came to Make It Right to offer their services including Adjaye Associates, Gehry Partners, and KieranTimberlake, establishing a new eco-friendly, supposedly disaster-proof neighborhood. But things quickly went awry as reports of homeowner complaints surfaced regarding the structural integrity of the architecture and more (aka mold). By September of last year, Make It Right had sued its own principal architect on allegations of defective design work.  Over the last year, Pitt’s lawyers have attempted to get the actor’s name taken off the latter lawsuit by citing he had no personal responsibility for the construction—last year, the actor claimed that because he wasn't an architect or builder, he wasn't culpable for the quality of the housing. However, as the founder and main fundraiser of the housing project, Pitt was not able to separate himself from the legal battle and could face court in the coming months. 
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The Labor Parti

Why don’t architects have unions?
In late August 2019, the AIA’s New York chapter hosted a panel moderated by architecture activist group The Architecture Lobby at the Center for Architecture called Firm Handbook and Best Practices for Office Policies. After all the panelists finished listing their offices’ progressive policies, including flexible work hours and codes of conduct, an audience member (in a crowd notably stacked with Lobby members, myself included) asked a question about unions and collective bargaining. The associate director of human resources of Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates responded: “Is this a case of wanting a union because the people suggesting it feel like the employer is the jerk and has to be controlled? Or, are you just saying you want to be able to give feedback and be heard and help influence the culture of the firm? Those are two very different things. If the general industry is really that bad and needs to be regulated by something like a union, then we all have a problem.” This statement is ripe for analysis that could keep us here for days, but let’s keep to a few key points. First, what is a union? By our HR professional’s estimation, it is a mechanism for controlling jerks in power. More accurately, however, a union is a twofold agreement. The first part of the agreement is between all the workers of a company or sector to elect representatives to negotiate their interests with the managers and owners of that company or sector. This is collective bargaining, to which everyone has the right under U.S. law. The second agreement is between workers and management that the union will be recognized, have a seat at the table, and be able to negotiate the terms of their employment. Within the scaffolding of this structure, a union can look like and achieve whatever it can agree on collectively, which—and hopefully to our HR professional’s delight—includes giving feedback and influencing company culture.  Now, does the desire for unionization indicate an industry-wide crisis? Yes, it does, but this crisis is not caused by unionization. Rather, unionization is a tool to address it. But this crisis is not unique to architecture. It is a broader issue about the rising precarity for workers in an economy where there are fewer and fewer paths for stability, where the gig economy is the economy, and workers have little choice but to cling to whatever benefits they are given. So to our HR professional’s point, we do all have a problem. A progressive firm owner may point to their policies—as many on the Firm Handbook and Best Practices for Office Policies panel did—and protest “we have health insurance, parental leave, paid overtime, flexible hours, etc.,” and all of these policies are crucial, but they are not the same as worker power. Worker power is not a cudgel to be used against management or regulate an industry; it’s a tool to ensure stability.  The question of why architectural workers (a term that includes designers as well as the administrative, communications, human resources, and business development workers who make the profession externally legible) haven’t unionized is richly complicated. It has as much to do with general labor consciousness under capitalism in the United States as it does with the idiosyncratic structure of the profession itself. It is difficult for workers who consider themselves middle class to imagine that they need a union. It difficult for workers who manage themselves on baroque systems of informal interpersonal relationships (“Our office is a family!”) to imagine they need a union. It is most acutely difficult for workers who do not consider themselves workers at all to imagine they need a union (this point explained is with greater clarity in Marisa Cortright’s excellent piece in Failed Architecture).   In the United States, the middle class is not a solid status. What we have instead is a gradient between precarity and privilege. However, from The Fountainhead to How I Met Your Mother, popular representations of architects code the profession as comfortably middle (or even upper) class. When I speak with architectural workers in the Architecture Lobby about unions, one of their top motivations for pursuing unionization is the gap between their material conditions and the myth of middle-class status. We ask each other, on your salary and benefits alone, can you afford a medical crisis? A pregnancy? Student loan payments? A mortgage? Retirement? Yet one of the many hesitations about unionization is the hope that keeping their heads down and eventually being promoted to management will afford them these forms of stability. But in most architecture firms, even those with yearly reviews, the path to promotion is murky and the trained managerial class is flimsy at best. This stagnation leads to instability, with workers leaving to seek opportunity elsewhere and often getting stuck again. Firms then find themselves retraining and retraining staff while steadily losing institutional memory. I’ve heard architects compare themselves to doctors and lawyers when considering their material conditions, citing length of training and licensure as similarities. But have architects made themselves as essential to society as doctors and lawyers? I do not ask this to insist architects do not deserve to be paid more. However, the purpose of an architecture union should not be to enshine architects materially among a professionalized working elite. I ask this question to point out that architecture has both enjoyed and been limited by an ambiguous position in society, where its value is guarded by mystique. When we feel pain, we look to doctors. When we find ourselves in legal trouble, we look to lawyers. But what triggers a commonplace social need for architects? Unionization would create an opportunity for architects to collectively clarify the profession’s relationship to society by standing in solidarity with all architectural workers and giving a structure for architectural workers to be in solidarity with other organized workforces. As an example, the Service Employees International Union includes healthcare workers who have both created a bargaining structure with their managers as well as a means to advocate for the type of healthcare system they would like to work in. Their advocacy helped to realize the Affordable Care Act. What could a united architectural workforce realize within and beyond the profession? As a member of the Architecture Lobby, which firmly believes in unionization as a tool to bring greater stability to the architectural labor force and to give a clear societal voice to the profession, I talk to architectural workers to help them understand what they can achieve in their offices and beyond. When we begin to talk to each other without fear or withholding, when we are transparent about our experiences, our salaries, our benefits, and our ambitions, when we come together as workers, the shape of the profession becomes more distinct and easier for those beyond the extremely wealthy to connect to. In this condition, a stable and united workforce has the ability to make our perspective essential to society on issues like climate, infrastructure, alternative practice, speculative development, securitization of public space, and much more.  In his essay “Black Box,” Reyner Bahman once quoted the funny anecdote of an architect being “asked for a pencil that could be used to tighten the tourniquet on the limb of a person bleeding to death in the street.” The architect responds “Will a 2B do?” It’s often used to bemoan the profession’s useless fussiness. But the architect had a pencil. The tool was in hand. It’s the mindset that’s missing.  Jessica Myers is an editor, writer, and podcast producer based in Brooklyn. She is the co-steward of New York’s Architecture Lobby chapter.
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A Monumental Makeover

Five top landscape firms join forces to save the National Mall Tidal Basin
As the National Mall Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. weathers the impact of tourism and climate change, teamwork may be the best way to save it. The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) and the Trust for The National Mall have announced a partnership of five landscape architecture firms tasked with shaping the Tidal Basin’s future. “The National Mall Tidal Basin embodies freedom, perseverance, and democratic values, and it is a place where people come together from around the country and around the world to celebrate these ideals," said Katherine Malone-France, NTHP's chief preservation officer, in a statement. "That is why we must bring our best innovation and ingenuity to meet the challenges it is facing. DLANDstudio, GGN, Hood Design Studio, James Corner Field Operations, and Reed Hilderbrand are slated to join forces in order to maximize the Tidal Basin’s potential as a public space. The coalition exists within the National Mall Tidal Basin Ideas Lab, a forum for innovation and collaboration with regard to the future of the landscape. Surrounded by the iconic memorials of Washington, the Tidal Basin has played an important role in the city’s landscape throughout history. The heavily-trafficked Tidal Basin Loop Trail offers unmatched views of the National Mall and its surrounding monuments, but a crumbling sea wall has led to regular flooding that impedes sidewalk access and threatens the world-famous cherry trees around the basin. The Ideas Lab hopes to compile a broad range of perspectives from the firms in order to combat the many challenges faced by the Tidal Basin such as infrastructure issues, an overwhelming visitor experience, the need for intensive land conservation, and more. “Our goal, as a lead partner of the National Park Service, is to bring innovation and partnerships to expedite the fulfillment of the Master Plan for the National Mall,” said Catherine Townsend, president and CEO of the Trust for the National Mall. “These five visionary teams are a prime example of how collaboration between distinguished experts in fields aligned with our project needs will create solutions to help overcome the complex preservation issues affecting the treasured Tidal Basin.” The proposals will be presented in an Ideas Lab exhibition slated to run next summer through fall 2020, during which the public will have the opportunity to inform the design process before concepts are finalized.
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Timber Take-Down

U.S. plywood producers sue over false labeling of off-grade Brazilian panels
Ten domestic plywood producers have jointly filed a lawsuit against several U.S. certification agencies for falsely labeling ineffective imported panels from South America. The group, known as the U.S. Structural Plywood Integrity Coalition, claims that structural panels produced in Brazil are being fraudulently certified and stamped upon entry to the U.S. even though they don’t meet the country’s minimum requirements for stiffness and deflection (the amount it sags when under horizontal load). This isn’t a new issue: In June 2018, the nonprofit trade group APA - The Engineered Wood Association sent an advisory to all domestic manufacturers detailing the results of its own nearly year-long experiment testing the strength and structural integrity of imported panels from seven different Brazilian producers. Though all of their products were marked with the official stamp for Structural Plywood, known as U.S. Product Standard PS 1-09, they all failed to comply with federal regulations by large margins.  Tyler Freres, vice president of sales at Freres Lumber Co. in Lyons, Oregon, said he’s seen the stamp on countless poor-quality panels with his own eyes, many of which were tested independently at Clemson University under the coalition’s purview. He told AN that even though the APA advisory went out to all U.S.-based companies, pressure hadn’t mounted enough in the last year to force the industry’s top certification firms, PFS TECO of Wisconsin, Timber Products Inspection of Georgia, and the International Accreditation Service of California, to stop the fraudulent labeling.  “No one cared,” he said. Freres and the nine other plywood companies that make up the coalition are hoping to halt further shipments from Brazil and to educate U.S. contractors and homebuyers about the issue, which started in 2016 when both the U.S. dollar and housing market became stronger. At the same time, Brazil’s government began encouraging producers to ramp up their timber harvesting.  “As consumers, we all need to be aware of where our products come from,” said Freres. “Wood materials should be produced in the most environmentally [sustainable] places possible and it’s no secret that South America is having huge problems with deforestation and illegal harvesting.”  Freres is specifically talking about native North American wood species like loblolly pine, slash pine, and others that, for the last four years, have been planted and unnaturally grown in large-scale plantations on top of former rainforests. “The species grows so fast in Brazil,” he said, “that the density [of the wood fiber] isn’t sufficient for structural purposes.”  Over the last two years, the amount of imported structural panels has grown to a total of 25 percent of the U.S. market, resulting in an oversaturated supply. Naturally, producers in the Pacific Northwest all the way down to the South have had to lower the number of panels they make, as well as the price, to compete with international imports. One member of the coalition, Gray Skipper from the Alabama-based Scotch Plywood Company, said many manufacturers have felt Brazil’s push to get its products into the hands of U.S. consumers. “We used to do a fair amount of business to Central and South Florida,” said Skipper. “It was about 20 percent of our product sales a decade ago. Now it’s something like one percent. Because of this, we’ve been focusing toward the Midwest and Northeastern markets but we’d like to be back in Southern Florida as soon as possible.”  According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, much of the imported Brazilian plywood that’s been coming into the U.S. has landed in Florida. The material is used as roof and wall sheathing on residential and commercial buildings, and it’s extremely dangerous to build with in locations that are subject to extreme weather. The allegations laid out in the coalition’s lawsuit, a Lanham Act claim, suggest that a hurricane, high winds, or an earthquake could easily damage a home or cause deaths where these off-grade panels were used.  Skipper said that he’s heard stories from builders who’ve have had to turn down the pressure of their nail guns when using the Brazilian panels because they are so much thinner than the U.S. product. Despite this, these falsely labeled panels are still being bought, which is why the coalition is looking for upwards of $300 million in its lawsuit against the three certification agencies. Freres said the group will continue to complete additional deflection testing, as well as full-scale wind testing, through Clemson and Oregon State University up until December in order to further build out its case.  So far, two of the three firms have denied the allegations. In a September statement from Timber Products Inspection, the company's president said it has "extreme confidence in our processes" and that "clients in Brazil and elsewhere who do not consistently meet the applicable industry standard do no remain as TP clients." 
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Freedom of Expression

Is Torkwase Dyson's abstract recount of racial violence a missed opportunity?
Torkwase Dyson’s 1919: Black Water, on display at Columbia GSAPP’s Arthur Ross Architecture Gallery through December 14th, is an inscrutable meditation on an incident of racial violence that took place in Chicago on a hot summer’s day in July 1919: the killing of a black 17-year-old named Eugene Williams on a Lake Michigan beachfront by a white man throwing rocks. Represented in the form of abstract paintings, geometric sculptures, and ink drawings, Williams’ story becomes a framing narrative for Dyson’s installations, which combine expressionist, minimalist, process art, and postminimalist elements in the manner of Mark Rothko, Dan Graham, Theaster Gates, or Nari Ward. Dyson describes her projects as “spatial systems that build upon the architectural typologies that people have used to liberate themselves.” But this is not social practice art or urban interventionism. There’s no evident intention to interact with or build a community, educate a group, or communicate a didactic message. As the accompanying exhibition pamphlet discusses in an engaging conversation with architectural historian Mabel O. Wilson, the works are at least partly meant to function as abstract ciphers for the re-imagination of architectural space through black experience. Deciphering that code for practical uses might require an advanced Ivy League degree. Dyson tends to fixate on sites of trauma in black history, seeking the potential for liberation within spaces that otherwise appear to lack all potential for agency: Henry “Box” Brown, who freed himself from enslavement by having himself mailed in a crate to the north, or Samuel Osborne, a janitor at Colby College who earned the school’s dedication by exemplifying an upright moral code. In the case of 1919: Black Water, the redemption emerges from an experience of pleasure-seeking and invention turned tragic: the fabrication of a boat to create a group space of joy, interrupted by racial violence. The story behind the show is compelling. In the summer of 1919, Eugene Williams and his friends had constructed a makeshift raft to carry them to a small island on the shores of Lake Michigan near 25th Street, in between the two unofficially segregated sides of the waterfront. There they were free to swim and play away from the crowds. It was a summer of heightened racial tension: The black population had more than doubled in Chicago during the preceding decade—the beginning of the Great Migration of six million African-Americans from the south. Competition for jobs had intensified at the nearby stockyards at the end of World War I and white supremacists had been increasingly fomenting hatred. The teens had apparently got caught in the middle, accidentally crossing an invisible boundary between the informally segregated areas. A group of white men began throwing rocks at them; as Williams ducked in the water and resurfaced, he was hit in the head, going under and drowning. The police neglected to arrest the rock-thrower, instead arresting a black man following a complaint by a white person. An explosion of violence ensued. In the following week, police killed seven black men; mobs and individual gunmen murdered 16 blacks and 15 whites; more than 500 others suffered from injuries; mobs burned more than 1,000 black families out of their homes. A mass of black string congealed with black acrylic hangs on a wooden bar against a blue background with a geometric abstraction above (Pilot), possibly invoking a blue sky mingling with its reflection in the water, a raft floating on top, a black body bleeding from the head, and maybe, sinking below. Thick black acrylic paint and graphite on canvases suggest a line of polluted water (Just Above and Just Below; Place, Raft, and Drift), and slices of brass bisecting canvases evoke segregated division of space, the surface of the water, and the horizon (Plantationocene; Being-Seeing-Drifting). A few geometric figures appear on canvases that resemble towers or antennae (Hot Cold; Extraction Abstracting). On the gallery floor, shiny black plexiglass tetrahedrons with voids on some sides (Black Shoreline) reference the reflection of the water, which gain energy from the presence of gallery visitors. The absence of figurative representations of Williams, the raft, or the crowds after the drowning—though historical images do appear in the catalog—recalls the protest a few years ago of Dana Schutz’s Open Casket at the Whitney Biennial. Schutz had portrayed the open casket of Emmett Till, a young black teen lynched in an incident of racial terror. His mother insisted on an open casket so everyone could see what was done to her son, producing a shocking image of brutality that spurred the civil rights movement. Did it do violence to his memory to represent his broken body? Was Schutz making common cause or exploiting Till’s suffering? In this case, the inverse question might apply: why isn’t Williams represented more powerfully rather than rendered in abstraction? Is it a missed opportunity not to deploy figurative tools to animate Williams’ story, bring it to light, propel it into the present, deploy it to inform policies, use it for more than personal expression? Or is the freedom to be a black expressionist a worthy end in itself, our desire to see his body exploitative, and art that exhorts politically tedious and doomed to failure anyway? “These systems also consider infrastructure and the environment to create a visual amalgamation that recognizes the ways that black people move through, inhabit, cleave and form space,” Dyson is cited as saying the catalog, describing her nomenclature of representation as “black compositional thought.” Often Dyson uses dancers accompanying installations to animate them with exuberant gestures, and the presence of performers might make this rhetoric seem less overblown. If these works constitute a kind of expressive freedom grounded in black narrative and experience, they operate within the exclusive prison-house of the institutional contemporary art and academic architecture world, its markets, nonprofits, grants, and formalist language games. It’s a project worthy of poststructural critique to seek liberation even within the most repressive situations. As with the collapse of the New Museum’s Ideas City program in the Bronx, it can be challenging to reconcile the sustained intellectual discourse with the urgent, viscerally felt problems of the world: lack of control over space and governance, being unable to afford a place to live or to find adequately paid work, and abstract financial forces determining the fate of your community.
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Architects Anonymous

Did Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher build Philadelphia's modernist stone pavilion? The answer may save it from demolition
The city of Philadelphia is moving forward with plans to demolish the beloved modernist stone pavilion in Columbus Square, affectionately referred to as the 'Roundhouse' (not to be confused with the Philadelphia Police Headquarters at 8th and Race Streets, also colloquially known as the 'Roundhouse'). The building gained notoriety earlier this year when The Philadelphia Inquirer's Inga Saffron attributed the building's design to the late Elizabeth Hirsh Fleisher, the first woman architect in Philadelphia and one of the first in Pennsylvania. However, the Department of Parks and Recreation has expressed its doubt of Saffron’s claim, attributing the project to Fleisher’s partner Gabriel Roth instead. Some claim that the Roundhouse lacks historical significance without direct attachment to Fleisher, making it an easy target for demolition in the wake of a $2.8 million renovation of Columbus Square. In a recent article for her column in the Inquirer, Saffron bluntly addressed the following questions: “Who’s right? And why should it matter at this late date?” Regardless of the architect’s identity, Saffron claims that the structure, which has been vacant since the city opened a larger recreational facility in 2005, deserves another chance. The whimsical modernist roof and hefty stone walls make it a unique time capsule from a bygone era, drawing parallels to Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel, which has long been praised as a treasure of mid-century modernism. Since its completion in the 1960s, the Roundhouse served as an important center of community life for the surrounding neighborhood of Passyunk Square. Its single doorway opened into a small but inviting space in which park-goers could stop to rest, grab sporting equipment, and hold meetings. Even after years of vacancy, Passyunk Square residents have not forgotten the legacy of the Roundhouse; Philadelphia resident Jay Farrell launched a change.org petition to save the beloved pavilion, stating that “the Columbus Square Fleisher Pavilion is clearly a much-loved and familiar landmark in the Passyunk Square neighborhood of South Philadelphia and there is a strong desire among local residents to see it preserved and adaptively reused.” The petition has garnered over 2,500 signatures thus far. While the future of the building remains unclear, the story of the Roundhouse has sparked important conversations about the unsung contributions of women architects and how we determine the historical significance of buildings.