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Design for Extremes

Milan shows examine design in the face of disaster
The much anticipated Museo del Design Italiano opened its doors to the public in the same week in April as the Salone del Mobile.Milano. Housed in the storied Milan Triennale, this carefully assembled selection of design artifacts is curated by Joseph Grima, who began his tenure as the museum’s first director. This collection, housed in the Italian Design Museum, is a preeminent example, according to the Triennale Foundation’s president Stefano Boeri, of Italy’s rich post-war cultural heritage. Grima’s formula for the permanent exhibition is to parcel the Triennale’s significant archive into limited sets or editions, that he characterizes as “episodes,” with the first episode serving as the premiere event. Episode 1 is a survey of the postwar years between 1948 and 1981 and is housed in the first half of the curved gallery that winds around the ground floor. Each progressive installment will expand deeper into the Triennale’s bowel-like interiors. The ultimate goal for the Design Museum is to expand beyond Giovanni Muzio’s original 1930s architectural masterpiece. The intention, according to Boeri, is for the museum to grow out by dipping below the rear gardens. An international competition for this future wing will soon be in the offing. It should be pointed out, however, that the exhibition on Italian design is concurrent with, if only through a programming coincidence, a major traveling exhibition located on the second floor above: Broken Nature, curated by Paola Antonelli, the highly successful senior curator of architecture and design at MoMA. Subtitled Design Takes on Human Survival (open through September 1, 2019), this detailed survey of critical strategies dealing directly with the plight of the planet and its increasingly fragile ecosystems aims to be the last word on what is possible through human action in the fuzzy realm of the “technosphere,” a term coined by Peter Haff and adopted by Antonelli’s curatorial team. An impressive number of prominent international designers, thinkers, visual artists and craftspeople share the extensive second-floor space in a sprawling display of human invention and earthly ingenuity. The two inadvertently overlapping exhibitions bring up the question of mutual relevancy, precisely because the similarities between these two exhibitions are much more marked than one would first assume. Looking at the two epochs under consideration, one postwar, the other very recent, both shows are reactions to extreme geopolitical contexts. Italy in the immediate postwar period had to overcome severe wartime devastation; while today, we are evidently firsthand witnesses to a ballooning climatic disaster. Why push the comparison? Because Joseph Grima’s vision of the late fifties to the early eighties serendipitously provides us with a collection of object-time-capsules, or packaged narratives, where we come face to face with an Olivetti typewriter, a pair of Moonboots, a miniature Brionvega television set. These items are neatly arranged alongside related prototype wooden models, publications from promotional advertising campaigns, and in some cases original cardboard packaging. True, as Stefano Mirti, the Milanese designer and critic who was one of the earliest to comment on the exhibit over social media, put it, the objects are readied as if for Instagram shots, but Mirti also took great delight in the immediacy and directness with which these objects are allowed to communicate with us. The famed folding clamshell Grillo telephones, designed in 1965 by Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper, are featured. Pick up the phone, try to remember or guess how to use the dial, and you are connected to the designer’s voice responsible for creating the object in front of you. It’s a pretty direct message, with no middleman. Why is everyone still so mesmerized with this by-now relatively familiar collection of top Italian design objects? The something else that characterizes this permanent collection is the inherent irony, cynicism, and deep criticality that underlies almost each and every one of these impressive designs. What could possibly be the reason we are ensnared by Archizoom’s relatively uncomfortable looking Poltrona Mies chair built by Poltronova in 1969 to take just one example? Most of these pieces, developed with sparse financial support from the manufacturers, represent lengthy developments by trial and error, long personal commitments, and rare commercial successes—at least when they first came on the market. A case in point are the colorful names of these creations, Papillon, Rossocactus, Shanghai, CuccioloTrigger of the SpaceVertebraAtollo, etc. The pieces are much more than merely functional objects; they act as totems for a new society. Behind these designs are a nest of ideological structures that reject standardization, often embrace handcrafts and experimental materials, and evidently abandon the strict tenets of modernist rationalism. The pieces are in turn self-ironic, cynically auto destructive, or perversely inefficient. Enzo Mari is the master of this kind of design game, as so many of his pieces in this collection exemplify, like his Box from 1971 for Anonima Castelli, a chair that is its own carrying case, or his Modelli in scala Serie Proposta per autoprogettazione (Scale models for self-design Proposta series), 1973, for Simon International, conceived to empower the user to rethink one’s own domestic environment. The transition from postwar reconstruction to the threat of nuclear annihilation remains all the while a running subtext among these objects. Looking at Broken Nature, one could only hope that there would be an equivalent level of meta-awareness. To be honest, several of the featured designers and creative thinkers in this exhibit do reach these heights, but they are drowned out by the sheer volume of participants. There are the overarching (or overreaching) categories, including “A Changed Climate,” “Complex Environments,” “Made and Unmade,” “More of the Times,” and “Bridges,” and some truly great projects for sure: beginning with the exhibition’s graphic icons, designed by Anna Kulachek. There are many impressive designs, fluent in the parametric, the biomimetic, the diagram, the transgenderative, the playful, but at the end of the day, what can you take away from all these projects, besides a deeply unrequited experience? This is not to slight the many amazing designs featured in Broken Nature, but it calls to question the primary curatorial position, which attempts to be so all-inclusive that there remains little room for personal absorption or reflection on the part of the viewer. There is no way to digest all this comprehensive information into a personal action, or to urge us on as individuals to become more aware or rebellious. The lack of self-reflection, self-criticism, or even some kind of cynical self-abdication leaves the viewer with simply too much useful information to process. Broken Nature is not the only one among these hugely impressive, uber-intelligent, mega-exhibits to come on the circuit in these recent years. But I fear the effects are ultimately counterproductive. In a way, we become frustrated in our attempts to make sense of these works. Go downstairs, to the Museo del Design Italiano, to experience how irony, satire, and self-deprecation draw your curiosity and fuel your imagination. This is what we need more of today.
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Location, location, location

How Baidu Maps turns location data into 3-D cityscapes—and big profits

Level 3, number 203. Turn right 10 feet. Go straight for 15 feet. The best way to experience data's strong grip on everyday life in China is to open up Baidu Maps, a mapping app by China’s biggest search engine company, and walk around a shopping mall for one afternoon. Inside the building, a network of Bluetooth beacons, Wi-Fi modems, and satellites from a global navigation satellite system whir and ping through the air and the ionosphere to determine your precise location. The map on the Baidu app tilts to reveal an elaborately modeled 3-D cityscape.

The resolution of Baidu Maps is stunning: Entire cities are modeled in 3-D. Within public buildings, the floorplan of each building level is precisely mapped. As I stand inside the Taikoo Hui Mall in the city of Guangzhou, China, I search for a store within the mall. Baidu Maps reveals which level the store is on and how many meters I need to walk. Strolling through the mall with the app tracking my location with a blue dot on the screen, life starts to feel like a virtual reality experience. The difference between the map's 3-D model and the reality beneath my feet is smaller than ever. The 3-D model makes an uncanny loop: Virtual models were used by architects and designers to design these spaces, which now unfold on a messy plane between real space and screen space.

China now has its own tech giants—Alibaba, JD.com, Tencent Holdings, and Baidu—homegrown behind the Great Firewall of China. Like their American counterparts, these companies have managed to surveil their users and extract valuable data to create new products and features. Baidu began as a search engine, but has now branched out into autonomous driving, and therefore, maps. The intricacy of its 3-D visualizations is the result of over 600 million users consulting the app for navigation every day or using apps that rely on Baidu Maps in the background, such as weather apps that rely on its geolocation features.

The tech company, like its counterparts such as Google, take advantage of multiple features available in smartphones. Smartphones possess the ability to determine users’ positions by communicating with an array of satellites such as GPS (Global Positioning Service); GLONASS, Russia’s version of GPS; or BeiDou, China’s satellite navigation system. Such satellite systems are public infrastructures created by American, Russian, and Chinese governments, respectively, that enable our phones to determine users’ precise longitude and latitude coordinates. The majority of apps and services on smartphones rely on location services, from food delivery to restaurant reviews. However, satellite navigation systems are still imprecise—they are often a few meters off, with anything from the weather to tall buildings affecting accuracy.

However, smartphones contain more than satellite signal receiver chips. A slew of other sensors, such as accelerometers, light sensors, and magnets are embedded in the average smartphone. In 2015, Baidu invested $10 million in IndoorAtlas, a Silicon Valley startup that specializes in indoor mapping. The company's technology is at the forefront of magnetic positioning, which allows indoor maps at 1-meter accuracy to be created simply by using an average smartphone. This technology relies on the Earth's geomagnetic field and the magnets in smartphones. By factoring in the unique magnetic "fingerprint" of each building based on the composition of its materials, such as steel, a building's floor plan can be mapped out without any data provided by the architect. However, this strategy requires user data at scale; multiple user paths need to be recorded and averaged out to account for any anomalies. Gathering large amounts of data from users becomes an imperative.

Floorplans aside, magnetic positioning is not the only dimension of user location data collection that allows data to become a spatial model. As people drive, bike, and walk, each user generates a spatial "trace" that also has velocity data attached to it. Through such data, information about the type of path can be derived: Is it a street, a sidewalk, or a highway? This information becomes increasingly useful in improving the accuracy of Baidu Maps itself, as well as Baidu's autonomous vehicle projects.

The detailed 3-D city models on Baidu Maps offer data that urban designers dream of, but such models only serve Baidu's interests. Satellite navigation system accuracy deteriorates in urban canyons, due to skyscrapers and building density, obscuring satellites from the receiver chip. These inaccuracies are problematic for autonomous vehicles, given the "safety critical" nature of self-driving cars. Baidu's 3-D maps are not just an aesthetic “wow factor” but also a feature that addresses positioning inaccuracies. By using 3-D models to factor in the sizes and shapes of building envelopes, inaccuracies in longitude and latitude coordinates can be corrected.

Much of this research has been a race between U.S. and Chinese companies in the quest to build self-driving cars. While some 3-D models come from city planning data, in China's ever-changing urban landscape, satellite data has proved far more helpful in generating 3-D building models. Similar to Google's 3-D-generated buildings, a combination of shadow analysis, satellite imagery, and street view have proved essential for automatically creating 3-D building models rather than the manual task of user-generated, uploaded buildings or relying on city surveyors for the most recent and accurate building dimensions.

None of this data is available to the people who design cities or buildings. Both Baidu and Google have End User License Agreements (EULAs) that restrict where their data can be used, and emphasize that such data has to be used within Baidu or Google apps. Some data is made available for computer scientists and self-driving car researchers, such as Baidu's Research Open-Access Dataset (BROAD) training data sets. Most designers have to rely on free, open-source data such as Open Street Maps, a Wikipedia-like alternative to Baidu and Google Maps. By walling off valuable data that could help urban planning, tech companies are gaining a foothold and control over the reality of material life: they have more valuable insights into transport networks and the movements of people than urban designers do. It's no surprise then, that both Baidu and Google are making forays into piloting smart cities like Toronto’s Quayside or Shanghai's Baoshan District, and gaining even greater control over urban space. No doubt, urban planning and architecture are becoming increasingly automated and privately controlled in the realm of computer scientists rather than designers.

In Shoshana Zuboff's 2019 book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, she examines how tech companies throughout the world are employing surveillance and data extraction methods to turn users into free laborers. Our “behavioral surplus,” as she terms it, becomes transformed into products that are highly lucrative for these companies, and feature proprietary, walled-off data that ordinary users cannot access, even though their labor has helped create these products. These products are also marketed as “predictive,” which feeds the desires of companies that hope to anticipate users’ behavior—companies that see users only as targets of advertising.

Over the past several years, American rhetoric surrounding the Chinese “surveillance state” has reached fever pitch. But while China is perceived to be a single-party communist country with state-owned enterprises that do its bidding, the truth is, since the 1990s, much of the country’s emphasis has been on private growth. Baidu is a private company, not a state-owned enterprise. Companies like Baidu have majority investment from global companies, including many U.S.-based funds like T. Rowe Price, Vanguard, and BlackRock. As China's economy slows down, the government is increasingly pressured to play by the rules of the global capitalist book and offer greater freedom to private companies alongside less interference from the government. However, private companies often contract with the government to create surveillance measures used across the country.

The rhetoric about the dangers of Chinese state surveillance obfuscates what is also happening in American homes—literally. As Google unveils home assistants that interface with other “smart” appliances, and Google Maps installed on mobile phones tracks user locations, surveillance becomes ubiquitous. Based on your location data, appliances can turn on as you enter your home, and advertisements for milk from your smart fridge can pop up as you walk by the grocery stores. Third-party data provider companies also tap into geolocation data, and combined with the use of smart objects like smart TVs, toasters, and fridges, it's easy to see why the future might be filled with such scenarios. Indeed, if you own certain smart appliances, Google probably knows what the inside of your home is like. In 2018, iRobot, the maker of the Roomba vacuum, announced that it was partnering with Google to improve the indoor mapping of homes, and now setting up a Roomba with Google Home has never been easier. Big tech companies in the U.S. would like us to believe that surveillance is worse elsewhere, when really, surveillance capitalism is a global condition.

Over the past 30 years, cities around the world have been the locus of enormous economic growth and corresponding increases in inequality. Metropolitan areas with tech-driven economies, such as the Shenzhen-Guangzhou-Hong Kong corridor and the Greater Bay Area, are home to some of the largest tech companies in the world. They are also home to some of the most advanced forms of technological urbanism: While Baidu may not have every single business mapped in rural China, it certainly has the listing of every shop in every mall of Guangzhou.

The overlap between cities as beacons of capital and as spaces where surveillance is ubiquitous is no coincidence. As Google’s parent company, Alphabet, makes moves to build cities and as Baidu aggressively pursues autonomous driving, data about a place, the people who live there, and their daily movements is increasingly crucial to the project of optimizing the city and creating new products, which in turn generates more wealth and more inequality. Places like San Francisco and Shenzhen are well-mapped by large tech companies but harbor some of the worst income gaps in the world.

The "smart city" urbanism enabled by surveillance and ubiquitous data collection is no different from other forms of development that erode affordable housing and public space. Reclaiming our cities in this digital age is not just about reclaiming physical space. We must also reclaim our data.

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Our Destiny, Our Democracy

Shirley Chisholm monument designers discuss using space to honor a legacy
A green and golden lace-like structure will soon stand 40-feet tall at the southeastern edge of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. From one angle it will unveil the profile of a woman and from another, the outline of the U.S. Capitol dome. That’s the winning design for the monument dedicated to trailblazing Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. Created by artists Amanda Williams and Olalekan Jeyifous—both trained as architects—Our Destiny, Our Democracy was chosen among the top five proposals submitted through She Built NYC, the city’s new initiative to make more monuments dedicated to women throughout the five boroughs. The pair’s bold vision to honor Chisholm will be the first public project to be built through the program and is set to rise on the corner of Ocean Avenue and Parkside Avenues by late 2020. AN spoke with Jeyifous, a Brooklyn resident himself, and Williams via email about how they came up with the striking memorial design and why it best embodies Chisholm’s spirit. AN: How did you conceive of intertwining the image of the Capitol with Chisholm's profile? OJ + AM: It’s best described in our proposal: The U.S. Capitol dome figures prominently as a backdrop in many of her photographs. The strategy for our primary sculptural profile reverses this relationship so that her figure engulfs or embodies the dome iconography, thus claiming ownership. This composite symbolizes how she disrupted the perception of who has the right to occupy such institutions and to be an embodiment for democracy…When approached from the park, a symbolic opening breaks through the capitol silhouette, creating a threshold that reinforces Chisholm’s fight to ensure that everyone could access their right to participate in the political process. Not a basic bust or figure statue, why do you think this design best represents Shirley Chisholm and her legacy of "leaving the door open" for others? We are not sculptors (in the most traditional sense of the word) so we knew that we would not be proposing a cast bronze representation of a figure. We are, however, trained in how to use space as a medium. We both bring that into our artistic practices in different but complementary ways. That proclivity toward space as an occupiable object inherently begs to be participatory and invites engagement. That seemed like a perfect analogy to Chisholm’s philosophy on democracy. Making a sculpture commemorating this incredible political figure in our current climate is about remembering the long arc of democracy. Her words ring true because she was ahead of her time, but also because her philosophy was embedded in core values of inclusion and meeting people where they were in order to bring them into the process. We feel strongly that we have made a thoughtful and decisive piece that pushes the boundaries of what it means to embody the ideals of a person and not just their visage. What are the connections or differences between the monument's design and the traditional ironwork you might see in a gateway to a park? The design is ultimately a threshold into what is a major urban park and that is reflected in the vine and leaf motif that weaves through the monuments tertiary sculptural profile. This was an intentional nod to the traditional garden gate typology. Now that we’ve been awarded the commission, we will begin the process of actually researching specifics and refining the design. We want to do a deeper review of the historic language of gates and thresholds associated with public parks, that material language for Prospect Park’s history, and then what we would want to add as new motifs. In what ways do you foresee the sun playing a role in the way the monument is experienced? We envision at certain vantage points the patinated and bronzed steel to be a glowing beacon and for the detailed filigree in the screens and perimeter fence to cast marvelous shadows on to the plaza surface. That the installation can be occupied contributes to the various ways in which light will transform the experience of visitors to the site. Shadows will also give it dynamism and whimsy as the sun angle changes by day and year. Its intensity is also something we hope to carry into night hours through the considered placement of lighting.
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MALL Talk

Jennifer Bonner on Haus Gables and architecture in the American South
MALL stands for Mass Architectural Loopty Loops or Miniature Angles & Little Lines, among other variations. Just like its ever-changing moniker, MALL’s work is constantly shifting. Founded by Jennifer Bonner in 2009, the Boston-based studio develops collections of projects that iteratively build from one to the next. As a graduate of Auburn University’s Rural Studio and Harvard Graduate School of Design—where she currently serves as faculty—Bonner channels her love of the American South and uses her teaching to experiment with new typologies and invent new modes of architectural representation. Her colorful, out-of-the-box approach to design is just one of many reasons why she is named one of AN Interior’s top 50 interior architects. AN spoke with Bonner about stepping away from tradition and what’s next for MALL. AN Interior: So these collections allow you to explore multiple new typologies? Jennifer Bonner: Each of my larger conceptual projects has the potentiality to question paradigms, which is what I’m most interested in. Take the roof forms in Domestic Hats and Haus Gables, a single-family house opening this month made from one of the original Domestic Hats models. I believe the roof plan can be an instigator of space rather than using Le Corbusier’s free plan and Adolf Loos’s raumplan. Here I was looking to expand different roof typologies, which is a topic I dove into while teaching at Georgia Tech. Read the full interview and see all the images an aninteriormag.com.
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Decks (over) and Yards

After Hudson Yards, Sunnyside could be New York's next megadevelopment

Lawrence Halprin and William “Holly” Whyte both published books in the 1960s that highlighted the ad hoc and often bottom-up design decisions that make cities successful for their users and inhabitants. Facing the massive Nieman Marcus–emblazoned steel and glass street wall that greets visitors entering Hudson Yards from 10th Avenue, the lessons of Halprin and Whyte seem a quaint reminder of how city building has changed in the past 50 years. Hudson Yards, or as its developers like to call it, “New York’s next great neighborhood,” is not so much an accretive, incremental part of the city, but a pop-up assemblage of high-rise corporate boxes surrounding a shopping mall. There is little here that would interest Halprin or Whyte about how to design a city.

As America’s white middle class was abandoning the city for the suburbs, the authors wanted to rediscover and celebrate the joys of high-density living. Gentrification has gone from an obscure English academic theory to a popular derisive term to describe how our cities are being organized, planned, and developed. In New York City in 2019, even affordable housing has been handed over to large corporate entities, much as it was in the 19th century, when tenements proliferated and developers were allowed to do as they wished with their property holdings.

The urban critics writing about Hudson Yards yearn for a seamless Whyte-inspired urban fabric that gives as much as it takes from the city. Sadly, the Yards are described, variously, as “an urban failure,” a “$25 billion enclave,” “too clean, too flat, too art-directed,” and “a vast neoliberal Zion.” But how could it have been otherwise? It was conceived, planned, and designed by a corporation with little interest in anything but short-term profit, and it proceeded with little input from community boards, elected officials, or planners. The community boards had all been bludgeoned for years by proposals for sports stadiums on the site, and they gave the go-ahead to the first proposal that promised housing and a school, even if that meant luxury towers. Without serious input from community boards and city planners, this new quarter of the city was destined for failure. Developers only begrudgingly accepted the High Line—one of the most successful top-down planning projects of the past 25 years—into its 14 acres of “public” space when pushed hard by the department of city planning. The High Line, to its credit, makes provision for the sort of urban happenstance that we like about cities, and we can be thankful it wends its way through Hudson Yards and does not stop at its perimeter. The short High Line spur, with its still unfinished plinth for a rotating case of public sculptures, visible overhead to cars driving up 10th Avenue, is the sort of unexpected condition that makes the city richer. Unfortunately, the gigantic footprints of the Hudson Yards buildings and their corporate lobby design aesthetic makes it impossible for any bottom-up ad hoc events to take place.

A major problem for the Yards is that it sits on a 28-acre concrete pad and underground infrastructure complex that precludes any urban use that doesn’t generate billions of dollars in income. It’s the same problem faced in varying degrees by the World Trade Center site and Park Avenue, but these seem like triumphs of urban design compared to Hudson Yards.

Sadly, this blueprint for city building on concrete pads (and its economic and financing formula) may be the model for the next big development site in the city, Sunnyside Yard, as New York’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) has already begun planning its future. It was identified as a potential development site in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2030 plan, and the 180-acre site in western Queens is not far from Manhattan and the growing centers of Long Island City, Astoria, and Queens Plaza. It potentially has 19 million square feet of retail, commercial, residential, and mixed-use spaces, and has been identified by the EDC as a place that could potentially house up to 24,000 homes, 19 schools, and 52 acres of public parks.

In February 2017, the city unveiled a feasibility study of the Sunnyside Yard area, which showed that decking was in fact possible, and that there were various scenarios in which a development of the site could move forward. But again, expensive decking will almost certainly preclude anything but corporate high-rise offices and luxury residential towers with commercial and open space, exactly like that at Hudson Yards.

Sunnyside Yard sits next to one of the most important residential developments in the United States, Sunnyside Gardens, designed by Henry Wright and Clarence Stein of the Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA). If only the planners for Sunnyside Yard could look next door and have the expertise and nerve to propose something as revolutionary as the RPAA did in the 1920s. But let’s not hold our breath—we are more likely to get another version of Hudson Yards on this public land.

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The Sea, The Sea Ranch

Another view on Sea Ranch and its SFMOMA exhibit
The exhibit The Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) closes in a month. If you are in San Francisco, it’s worth seeing for many reasons. It shows that the SFMOMA’s architecture curators can do a lot with a little square footage. (Why so little is another question!) Wisely, they focused on the optimistic beginnings and not the whole controversial history of the development. In doing so, they captured a golden moment for architecture in the Bay Region, when ecology and development and modernism and postmodernism touched and kissed. After more than 50 years, Sea Ranch has a lot of narratives. Concentrating on the community’s beginnings, when there was a strong collective spirit, highlights the project’s hope, which is in short supply these days. The heavy truth about Sea Ranch is that designing an ecologically sensitive community a three-hour drive from San Francisco falls outside our current green script. The early narrative belongs primarily to landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, the architect-developer Al Boeke, and the founders of Moore Lyndon Turnbull Whitaker (MLTW) and Joseph Esherick & Associates (later Esherick Homsey Dodge & Davis). Their story has many interesting turns, not the least of which is the dominance of Halprin, who emphasized the dramatic landscape over architecture. The MLTW buildings were strong yet self-effacing on the exterior and exuberant and joyous on the interior. This balance was rarely struck again. After more than 50 years, with many of the lots developed, the Sea Ranch community has largely returned to focusing on stewardship of the natural landscape—even if much of that landscape was formed by the different humans who occupied the land. If I have quibbles about the exhibit, they are more with the handsomely designed catalog than with the show. Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher’s essay mentions Salton Sea, which has little relevance to Sea Ranch, but she does not discuss Berkeley’s Greenwood Commons. The core ideas of Sea Ranch can be found in that small community, which Lawrence Halprin planned below the John Galen Howard–designed house that was occupied for many decades by William Wurster, dean of the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. Curator Joe Becker’s essay locates Sea Ranch in the modernist idiom. Developer Al Boeke had worked for Neutra, Halprin had studied with Gropius, and Turnbull worked with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. While Becker mentions that Moore, Lyndon, and Turnbull had studied with Louis Kahn when he taught at Princeton, he doesn’t connect that to a larger trajectory that the three were following. For example, he mentions Sea Ranch’s various “saddlebags” and “aediculae” as key design moments, but I would argue that these point to an attempt on the part of Kahn’s students to move away from the strict confines of modernism and to give architecture a deeper meaning beyond aesthetic purity. Condominium 1 is a bridge to a restrained postmodernism. The exteriors and the studies for variations look like an experimental modernist exercise, except for the quirky interior spaces and—in the case of Charles Moore’s unit, partially reconstructed in the exhibit—the riot of color and sly historic references. Bobbie Stauffacher Solomon’s graphics inside Sea Ranch’s recreation centers (and, to a smaller degree, inside Sea Ranch Lodge) are another example of the bridge from the severity of modernism to the exuberance of postmodernism. Stauffacher Solomon is the secret star of the show. Unfortunately, her own small exhibit on the third floor was up for only two months. Hopefully, she will get a larger exhibit in the future. (Again, the problem of too little space for architecture and design!) The exhibition itself draws the visitor in with Stauffacher Solomon’s bright angled graphics and then the smell of wood. At Sea Ranch itself, that smell might come from the trees (second growth), the house interiors, or the fireplaces. Here, it originates from the lumber used for the brilliant reproduction of the living space of Moore’s condominium unit. Typically, architecture exhibitions have small models, drawings, and photographs. The now-famous Case Study House exhibit of 1989 to 1990, which helped revive interest in modernism, succeeded, in part, because of two complete full-scale models and one model, similar to this, of a living room (that of noted designers Charles and Ray Eames). Besides giving the three-dimensional experience of a space, this model also divides the room into distinctive gallery spaces for exhibits on different aspects of Sea Ranch’s formation. Inside the reconstructed living room of Moore’s unit, a video plays, in which many of the original designers (or their spouse, in the case of Bill Turnbull) talk about the community and its successes and failures. Unfortunately, nobody from Esherick’s office is represented. Recently deceased partner George Homsey built a wonderful modest cabin at Sea Ranch for his own family, but it is barely known and not covered here. Perhaps he was not well enough to be interviewed. The museum’s architecture curators have created a show and catalog that will hold the attention of architects, the Bay Area’s many knowledgeable laypeople, and people who know nothing of Sea Ranch or its importance. The combination of materials and the emphasis on the optimistic beginnings achieve this. Even if the original vision of Sea Ranch (utopians vs. land development being the obvious trope) was partially lost, the stewardship of this dramatic place where the land meets the sea and man meets nature still maintains its relevance and draws us there frequently. This exhibit encourages the dialog about the results of well-intended design in late capitalism.
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Techtown USA

The origins and perils of development in the urban tech landscape

In most major cities of the world, an urban tech landscape has emerged. One day, we were working on our laptops at Starbucks, and the next, we were renting desks at WeWork. We embedded our small architectural and design firms in low-rent spaces in old factories and warehouses, and then we emerged as “TAMI” (technology, advertising, media, and information) tenants, heating up the commercial real estate market. Friends who could write computer code started businesses in their apartments before moving into tech incubators and accelerators, which then morphed into a “startup ecosystem.” Though a competitive city in the 1990s might only have had one cutely named cluster of startups—New York’s Silicon Alley, San Francisco’s Media Gulch—by the 2010s, many cities were building “innovation districts.” How did this happen? And what does it mean for these cities’ futures?

The simplest explanation is that cities are catching up to the digital economy. If computers and the web are one of the primary means of production for the 21st century, all cities need the infrastructure—broadband, connectivity, flexible office space—to support them. Companies that control the means of production also need raw material—the data that newly “smart” cities can provide—to develop concepts, test prototypes, and market their wares. Local governments and business leaders have always reshaped cities around the businesses that profit from new technology; In the 19th century, they built railroad stations, dug subway tunnels, and laid sewage pipes; in the 20th century, they wired for electricity and erected office towers. Maybe we should ask why it has taken cities so long to rebuild for digital technology.

Inertia is one answer, and money is another. Entrenched elites don’t readily change course, especially if a new economy would challenge their influence on local politics and labor markets. Think about the long dominance of the auto industry in Detroit and the financial industry in New York, both late converts to digital technologies like self-driving cars and electronic banking, respectively.

Another reason for cities’ slow awakening to the tech economy is the post–World War II prominence of suburban office parks and research centers, part of the mass suburbanization of American society. On the East Coast, tech talent began to migrate from cities in the early 1940s, when Bell Labs, the 20th-century engineering powerhouse, moved from Lower Manhattan to a large tract of land in suburban New Jersey. A few years later, on the West Coast, Stanford University and the technology company Varian Associates spearheaded the construction of an electronics research park on a university-owned site of orange groves that later became known as Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley got the lion’s share of postwar federal government grants and contracts from the military for microwave electronics innovation, missile research, and satellite communications. Venture capital (VC) soon followed. Although VC firms began in New York and Boston, by the 1960s and ’70s they were setting up shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Valley’s hegemony was solidified in the 1980s by the rise of the personal computer industry and the VCs who got rich by investing in it. The suburban tech landscape so artfully represented in popular mythology by Silicon Valley’s DIY garages and in physical reality by its expansive corporate campuses was both pragmatically persuasive and culturally pervasive. Its success rested on a triple helix of government, business, and university partnerships, defining an era from Fairchild, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard (the first wave of major digital technology companies) to Apple, Google, and Facebook.

In contrast to the suburban postwar growth of Silicon Valley, the urban tech landscape was propelled by the rise of software in the early 2000s and gained ground after the economic crisis of 2008. Software was easier and cheaper to develop than computers and silicon chips—it wasn’t tied to equipment or talent in big research universities. It was made for consumers. Most important, with the development of the iPhone and the subsequent explosion of social media platforms after 2007, software increasingly took the form of apps for mobile devices. This meant that software startups could be scaled, a crucial point for venture capital. For cities, however, the critical point was that anyone, anywhere, could be both an innovator and an entrepreneur.

The 2008 economic crisis plunged cities into a cascade of problems. Subprime mortgages cratered, leaving severely leveraged households and financial institutions adrift. Banks failed if they didn’t get United States government lifelines. Financial jobs at all levels disappeared; local tax revenues plummeted. While mayors understood that they had to end their dependence on the financial sector—a realization most keenly felt in New York—they also faced long-term shrinkage in manufacturing sectors and office vacancies.

London had already tried to counter deindustrialization with the Docklands solution: Waterfront land was redeveloped for new media and finance, and unused piers and warehouses were converted for cultural activities. In Spain, this strategy was taken further in the 1990s by the construction of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum and the clearing of old industrial plants from that city’s waterfront. By the early 2000s, Barcelona’s city government was building both a new cultural district and an “innovation district” for digital media, efforts that bore a striking resemblance to the 1990s market-led development of the new media district in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley and the growth of tech and creative offices in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.

Until the economic crisis hit, both spontaneous and planned types of urban redevelopment were connected to the popular “creative city” model promoted by Charles Landry in London and Richard Florida in Pittsburgh (later, Toronto). In 2009, however, economic development officials wanted a model that could create more jobs. They seized on the trope of “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” that had been circulating around business schools since the 1980s, channeling the spirit of the economic historian Joseph Schumpeter and popularized in a best-selling book by that title by the management guru Peter Drucker. Adopted by researchers at the Brookings Institution, urban innovation districts would use public-private partnerships to create strategic concentrations of workspaces for digital industries. It seemed like a brilliant masterstroke to simultaneously address three crucial issues that kept mayors awake at night: investments, jobs, and unused, low-value buildings, and land.

In the absence of federal government funding, real estate developers would have to be creative. They built new projects with money from the city and state governments, the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program for foreign investors, and urban impact funding that flowed through investment banks like Goldman Sachs. Federal tax credits for renovating historic buildings and investing in high-poverty areas were important.

Though all major cities moved toward an “innovation economy” after 2009, New York’s 180-degree turn from finance to tech was the most dramatic. The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and 2001, followed by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and an economic recession, initially kept the city from endorsing the uncertainty of tech again. Michael Bloomberg, mayor from 2001 to 2013, was a billionaire whose personal fortune and namesake company came from a fusion of finance and tech, most notably the Bloomberg terminal, a specially configured computer that brings real-time data to stock brokers’ and analysts’ desks. Yet, as late as 2007, Mayor Bloomberg, joined by New York’s senior senator Chuck Schumer, promoted New York as the self-styled financial capital of the world, a city that would surely triumph over its only serious rival, London. The 2008 financial crisis crumpled this narrative and turned the Bloomberg administration toward tech.

By 2009, the city’s business elites believed that New York’s salvation depended on producing more software engineers. This consensus motivated the mayor and his economic development officials to build big, organizing a global competition for a university that could create a dynamic, postgraduate engineering campus in New York. Cornell Tech emerged as the winner, a partnership between Cornell University and the Israel Institute of Technology. Between 2014 and 2017, the new school recruited high-profile professors with experience in government research programs, university classrooms, and corporate labs. They created a slew of partnerships with the city’s major tech companies, and the resulting corporate-academic campus made Roosevelt Island New York’s only greenfield innovation district. Not coincidentally, the founding dean was elected to Amazon’s board of directors in 2016.

The Bloomberg administration also partnered with the city’s public and private universities, mainly the aggressively expanding New York University (NYU), to open incubators and accelerators for tech startups. After NYU merged with Polytechnic University, a historic engineering school in downtown Brooklyn, the Bloomberg administration made sure the new engineering school could lease the vacant former headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority nearby, where NYU’s gut renovation created a giant tech center.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn waterfront was booming. The Brooklyn Navy Yard added advanced manufacturing tenants and art studios to its traditional mix of woodworking and metalworking shops, food processors, and suppliers of electronics parts, construction material, and office equipment, and began to both retrofit old machine shops for “green” manufacturing and build new office space. While tech and creative offices were running out of space in DUMBO, the heads of the downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO business improvement districts came up with the idea of marketing the whole area, with the Navy Yard, as “the Brooklyn Tech Triangle.” With rezoning, media buzz, and a strategic design plan, what began as a ploy to fill vacant downtown office buildings moved toward reality. 

Established tech companies from Silicon Valley and elsewhere also inserted themselves into the urban landscape. Google opened a New York office for marketing and advertising in 2003 but expanded its engineering staff a few years later, buying first one, then two big buildings in Chelsea: an old Nabisco bakery and the massive former headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Facebook took AOL’s old offices in Greenwich Village. On the next block, IBM Watson occupied a new office building designed by Fumihiko Maki.

Jared Kushner’s brother, the tech investor Jonathan Kushner, joined two other developers to buy the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ former headquarters and printing plant on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The developers converted the buildings into tech and creative offices and called the little district Dumbo Heights. By 2015, the growth of both venture capital investments and startups made New York the second-largest “startup ecosystem” in the world after Silicon Valley. Within the next three years, WeWork (now the We Company) surpassed Chase Bank branches as Manhattan’s largest commercial tenant.

All this development was both crystallized and crucified by Amazon’s decision to open half of a “second” North American headquarters (HQ2) in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York, in 2018. Amazon organized a competition similar to the Bloomberg contest that resulted in Cornell Tech, but in this case, the contest was a bidding war between 238 cities that offered tax credits, help with land assemblage, and zoning dispensations in return for 50,000 tech jobs that the company promised to create. But in announcing its selection, Amazon divided the new headquarters in two, supposedly placing half the jobs in New York and the other half in Crystal City, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Many New Yorkers erupted in protest rather than celebration.

The amount of tax credits offered to the very highly valued tech titan, almost $3 billion in total, appeared to rob the city of funding for its drastic needs: fixing the antiquated subway system, repairing the aging public housing stock, and building affordable housing. The decision-making process, tightly controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, enraged New York City Council members, none of whom had been given a role in either negotiating or modifying the deal. The deal itself was closely supervised by New York State’s Economic Development Corporation behind closed doors, without any provision for public input or approval.

Housing prices in Long Island City rose as soon as the deal was announced. A city economic development representative admitted that perhaps half of the jobs at HQ2 would not be high-paying tech jobs, but in human resources and support services. In a final, painful blow, Amazon promised to create only 30 jobs for nearly 7,000 residents of Queensbridge Houses, the nearby public housing project that is the largest in the nation.

Amazon representatives fanned their opponents’ fury at public hearings held by the New York City Council. They said the company would not remain neutral if employees wanted to unionize, and they refused to offer to renegotiate any part of the deal. Opponents also protested the company’s other business practices, especially the sale of facial recognition technology to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Yet surveys showed that most registered New York City voters supported the Amazon deal, with an even higher percentage of supporters among Blacks and Latinos. Reflecting the prospect of job opportunities, construction workers championed the deal while retail workers opposed it. The governor and mayor defended the subsidies as an investment in jobs. Not coincidentally, Amazon planned to rent one million square feet of vacant space in One Court Square, the former Citigroup Building in Long Island City, before building a new campus on the waterfront that would be connected by ferry to Cornell Tech.

After two months of relentless, vocal criticism, in a mounting wave of national resentment against Big Tech, Amazon withdrew from the deal. Elected officials blamed each other, as well as a misinformed, misguided public for losing the economic development opportunity of a lifetime.

Yet it wasn’t clear that landing a tech titan like Amazon would spread benefits broadly in New York City. A big tech company could suck talent and capital from the local ecosystem, deny homegrown startups room to expand, and employ only a small number of “natives.”

From San Francisco to Seattle to New York, complaints about tech companies’ effect on cities center on privatization and gentrification. In San Francisco, private buses ferry highly paid Google workers from their homes in the city to the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, green space and cafes in the Mid-Market neighborhood proliferate to serve Twitter employees and other members of the technorati, low-income Latinos from the Mission district are displaced by astronomical rents—all of these factors stir resentment about Big Tech taking over. In Seattle, Amazon’s pressure on the city council to rescind a tax on big businesses to help pay for homeless shelters also aroused critics’ ire. Until recently, moreover, tech titans have been unwilling to support affordable housing in the very markets their high incomes roil: East Palo Alto and Menlo Park in California, and Redmond, Washington.

It remains to be seen whether urban innovation districts will all be viable, and whether they will spread wealth or instead create highly localized, unsustainable bubbles. Venture capital is already concentrated in a small number of cities and in a very few ZIP codes within these cities. According to the MIT economist David Autor, although the best “work of the future” is expanding, it is concentrated in only a few superstar cities and only represents 5 percent of all U.S. jobs.

Yet urban tech landscapes emerge from a powerful triple helix reminiscent of Silicon Valley. Elected officials promise jobs, venture capitalists and big companies make investments, and real estate developers get paid. Though these landscapes glitter brightly compared to the dead spaces they replace, they don’t offer broad participation in planning change or the equitable sharing of rewards.

Sharon Zukin is a Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, and is author of the forthcoming book The Innovation Complex: Cities, Tech, and the New Economy.

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Overcoming Obese-city

In Jackson, Mississippi, architects are taking on a citywide hunger problem

By more than one measure, Jackson, Mississippi, is one of the nation’s unhealthiest cities. In 2017, it was named the fattest city in America based on 17 indicators, including obesity rates, levels of physically active adults, and access to fresh produce. In fact, nearly one-fifth of city residents are considered food insecure. The state of Mississippi does not fare much better—for the last eight years, it was reported as the most food insecure state in the country, even though agriculture is the state’s top industry. 

It’s not just that Jackson has only 17 grocery stores for a population of nearly 170,000—that’s one per nearly 10,000 people. But the food that is available is disproportionately tipped toward fast food and gas station items. As one scholar of Jackson’s food culture told the Clarion Ledger, “Hunger happens in between bags of chips.” 

All of this is compounded by the city’s lack of viable public transit options. Jackson is designed around the car, but many residents, whose wallets are already stretched thin on federal food assistance dollars, don’t own one. Even those with groceries or farmers’ markets in walking distance are discouraged by the lack of sidewalks or crosswalks. These conditions are undergirded by decades of generational poverty and disinvestment due to white flight, unfavorable tax policies, and the state’s aggressive efforts to cut resources for Medicaid and limit food stamps.

But Jackson also has a long history of civil rights activism, and its residents in 2013 and again in 2017 elected mayors who promised nothing less than wholesale social and economic transformation. For Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, addressing Jackson’s food access challenge is part of his promise to make it “the most radical city in the world.” But rather than enlisting conventional strategies, the city has mobilized its long-range planning division to lead a new design-based initiative. Bolstered by a $1 million public art grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies, “Fertile Ground: Inspiring Dialogue about Food Access” brings together architects and artists alongside chefs, gardeners, food policy experts, and local institutions to facilitate a year of community-engaged interventions at three sites in the city. The project will culminate in a citywide exhibition in the spring of 2020, but ultimately it aims to establish a nonprofit research lab on food access that will operate on a permanent basis to sustain the momentum that is created.

The city invited an intriguing roster of architects and designers from around the country to participate in the multidisciplinary initiative: Kathy Velikov and Geoffrey Thün, directors of RVTR; Anya Sirota and Jean Louis Farges of Akoaki; Walter Hood of Hood Design Studio, and Jonathan Tate, who runs his namesake practice, Office of Jonathan Tate. Architects are central to the project, said Travis Crabtree, a senior urban planner with the city and one of the project’s coordinators. “When we first got the grant, people asked, Why are we spending $1 million dollars on an art project when we could feed people for a million?” he said.

Looking more closely at what these designers bring to the table may illustrate what can be gained from this approach. The question of access is at the heart of practices like the Toronto and Ann Arbor, Michigan–based RVTR, led by Velikov and Thün, who are both associate professors at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. In their ongoing project, Protean Prototypes, they conceive of public transit systems as platforms to address access to mobility, food, education, and health. They do this by mapping the social and spatial opportunities for access, connecting underserved areas with local actors who can bridge access gaps and by proposing lightweight spatial prototypes that overlay onto public transit infrastructure, such as bus stops and metro stations. The prototypes might include emerging tech like mobile produce vending systems and bike-cart shares alongside other programs with a small footprint like exercise equipment and book lending programs. Applying this method to Chicago, San Francisco, and Detroit, this complex systems approach brings together architectural and urban scale in new assemblages that amplify the resources already on the ground and take advantage of the larger urban context to channel them where they are needed most.

In Jackson, Velikov and Thün will focus their efforts at the Ecoshed, a 15,000-square-foot, open-air building on a 2-acre industrial site that borders two very different neighborhoods—the rapidly gentrifying Fondren and Virden Addition, one of the poorest in the city. For Fertile Ground, the Ecoshed will demonstrate a self-sustaining closed-loop food system and host the food lab, and eventually host the Fertile Ground nonprofit.

Anya Sirota and Jean Louis Farges of Detroit-based Akoaki will also focus their efforts at the Ecoshed. Their practice has engaged with the problem of food access through four years of work with an urban farm in Detroit, the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm. Sirota is also an associate professor of architecture at Taubman. Detroit provides a uniquely fertile landscape for thinking about urban food access. According to Sirota, Detroit has 1,300 urban farms, but none of them are sustainable. At the 6-acre Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, sustainability for Sirota and Farges has meant strategizing beyond economics alone. To them, urban farms are hubs for urban regeneration, and they realized that multiple layers of activity and programming were needed to realize that potential. Like Velikov and Thün, they see architecture as a way of “amplifying the activity that’s already happening on the ground, to stitch together new and productive alliances.”

Detroit may be 1,000 miles from Jackson, but the connection between the two cities runs deep. Like Jackson, Detroit is a majority African American city, with many residents who have ties to Mississippi and other southern states. Thus, the Oakland Avenue farm grows many heritage products from Mississippi. Likewise, the association to agriculture is similarly fraught in both cities; as Sirota noted, “We are highly attuned to the idea that going back to the land isn’t necessarily representationally positive to everyone.” Rather than framing urban farming as a return to an idyllic past (and glossing over the history of slavery and policies that led to the dispossession or denial of land to freed slaves), Akoaki’s urban farm work is firmly sited in the urban. “We’ve become astutely aware that the neo-rural is not rural; it’s something that deserves an aesthetic that hybridizes all the aspirations of the city and combines them with the necessity to produce picturesque landscape and food.” Thus the practice’s design of pop-up performance spaces next to the farm’s kale fields for the Detroit African Funkestra is based on the colors and shapes of shuttered music venues across Detroit.

Another participating architect, Oakland-based landscape architect Walter Hood, has extensive experience designing cultural and urban landscapes. Hood, who is also a professor at University of California, Berkeley's  will focus his efforts at Galloway Elementary in Jackson. The 4.3-acre, publicly owned lot is currently a playfield for a local elementary school. According to the city’s planning department, this site is located in a lower-income residential neighborhood with little public space and bordered by a major street dominated by fast food establishments. The theme here will be on food and community.

This is a good fit for Hood. His projects in Charleston, South Carolina; Macon, Georgia; Detroit, and Philadelphia, among other cities, demonstrate a steady thread of incorporating community feedback, local culture, and collective memory into landscape and urban design. In his Water Table installation at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, Hood tapped into the ecology and history of rice production by mounting thousands of Carolina Gold rice plants in circular planters on a platform in a school courtyard, essentially recreating a rice paddy in downtown Charleston. The project resurfaced the link between rice production and the history of the slave labor that made Carolina’s rice industry possible. Afterwards, the project was dissembled and distributed, planter by planter, across schools and institutions in the area, and lived on to continue the conversation. This archaeological approach also surfaces in many other projects by Hood Studio, including its master plan for Detroit’s Rosa Parks neighborhood. Hood's work has long engaged with the idea of “being a protagonist in design," and, in reflecting on the future work in Jackson, asked, “How do we make a landscape powerful, so that once you do it, it has a resonance?”

Finally, at Congress Street, the third Fertile Ground site, New Orleans–based architect Jonathan Tate will bring his experience with food culture and exhibition design to a downtown storefront space. The Congress Street site is close to the heart of government and is intended to amplify the project to public officials and policymakers who work nearby.

For Tate, who designed the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans, the task includes not only the adaptive reuse of an existing building but also the design of an outdoor parklet that invites the public in through greenscape and seating. The challenge will be to bring it all together—the art, the history, the contributions of numerous partners, and of course, engage critical feedback, in a downtown that goes quiet at 5 p.m. on weekdays. "Instead of a veneer you're walking through, it's about bringing the space of the building out into the street," he explained.

The architects, along with other Fertile Ground team members, began site visits in April, and will develop their proposals until the citywide expo in 2020.

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Image Object

AMO/OMA and UNStudio on designing in the age of social media
What does it mean for architecture publishing when everyone publishes? PLANE—SITE invited AMO/OMA and UNStudio to talk about how they see the role of social media in architecture and the relationships between image, object, and experience in their new short video “Building Images,” created for the World Architectural Festival 2018. The two firms and their representatives propose an array of different fears, hopes, uses, and possibilities of social media. AMO/OMA partner Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli is curious about what we capture and how we look—our desire to get at an “authenticity” of real life that instead might just suspend us in a state of “permanent voyeurism.” Of photographing and witnessing so many plural photographs of buildings, he says that there is “an obsession to unveil what are the mechanics behind the project…not just the final output.” UNStudio’s founder Ben van Berkel takes particular interest in the resonances and oscillations between the instantaneousness and ephemerality promoted by social platforms like Instagram and how these timescales relate to architecture, which he points out, is generally meant to last; it’s slow to come up and slow to come down. In this case, AMO/OMA architect Giacomo Ardesio suggests, it is even more important to have a gluttonous stream of images. It makes a building last beyond an individual moment of embodied experience—which is especially important for many of the more temporary works AMO designs—and also documents people’s own intimate experiences, as well as their social ones, with the space. Instagram photos can show how the buildings might be “engaging visitors beyond the program it is meant to solve.” Instagram gives architects and everyone “a more complete view,” says AMO’s Giulio Margheri. He means this both in comparison to a pre-social media era but also against the more “refined” photos of architecture magazines and shelter publications that used to be the only insight into a building short of being in it. But, van Berkel says, all this focus on social media might make some run the risk of being “one-off architects.” It also, like much of the internet, can flatten things: people flock to the same places to take the same photos, overrunning streets and turning them into photo ops. And so often Instagram photos aren’t really of buildings (though some certainly are); a building is just background, or so it seems. But what if we consider a building a background with its own agency? This is a theoretically interesting question, but one that also has a practical side that UNSudio explores by using Instagram and other social media as part of their post-occupancy analysis, in addition to measurements, sensor data, and interviews. It lets them ask, urban designer Dana Behrman says, “how do [people] actually appropriate the spaces?” This question often leads to surprising answers, and she cites the ways that the Arnhem Central Station UNStudio designed has been used as a site for performances.  And even the desire to get behind things that Laparelli seemed cautious of could be a good thing according to some. “Everyone produces images, the whole landscape has democratized,” says Machteld Kors, communications director of UNStudio. “People want to see where things come from, and how things are made. The storytelling in projects is becoming more and more important.” What "Building Images" shows is that perhaps it is architects who are trying to get behind the operations of things, asking why people show themselves in a certain building in certain ways. 
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Made in Tokyo

Get some exclusive insight into Atelier Bow-Wow’s New York exhibition

Continuing their influential body of work examining the city from fresh angles and novel frameworks, Atelier Bow-Wow’s Momoyo Kaijima and Yoshiharu Tsukamoto will cocurate Made In Tokyo: Architecture and Living 1964–2020 at New York’s Japan Society. The show, scheduled to open in October, will examine Tokyo in the period between the 1964 and the 2020 Olympics, both of which were hosted in the Japanese capital and marked shifts caused by enormous infrastructural investment. Made In Tokyo, a close examination of the flows of everyday life and urban institutions, will feature models, drawings, and photographs of a collection of architecture and art that developed around the city in this period of extraordinary change. AN executive editor Matt Shaw exchanged emails with the iconic duo as they prepare the exciting exhibition.

The Architect’s Newspaper: What can we expect from this show? How does it relate to your book projects, particularly Made in Tokyo, which shares a name with the exhibition?

Atelier Bow-Wow: What you can see from this exhibition is the Tokyo of the two Olympics, seen through the evolution of various urban institutions. Our book, Made in Tokyo (2001), showed the life of this unique city through the observation of “hybrid” metropolitan structures. By applying this lens to the urban institutions that were being created in 1964 and 2020, the years of the two Tokyo Olympics, we will showcase the change, or metabolism, of the life of Tokyo.

How did you sort through almost 60 years of architecture and development of the largest metropolis in the world? What were you looking for as you made your framework?

The urban architecture that was built between the last Tokyo Olympics and the upcoming Tokyo Olympics can be categorized in two ways: architecture that supports the everyday life of Tokyo (transit stations, city halls, offices, houses, etc.) and architecture that supports the nonroutine life (capsule hotels, stadiums, department stores, etc.). Comparing these two kinds of architecture and observing how the environments, conditions, and social expectations for each type has changed will reveal how life in Tokyo has transformed.

What are the major transitions you identify? What built works illustrate them?

Size. The size of the Olympics, the size of cities, the size of economic impact, the technical environment—namely, the internet—how families should live, the way of working, commercial services, demographics of cities, etc., have all changed drastically.

Were there surprises that you came across as you surveyed the city and its history? What assumptions about Tokyo might be upended?

We are the generation of the previous Tokyo Olympics and cannot hide how surprised we are at the tremendous turnover of city spaces from what we remember in our childhood memories. Since the government handed over the reins of urban creation to the private sector, the logic of capital and industry has entered into every corner of the city and started determining the shapes of life and urban spaces. Although it is widely said that the 70-year period of peace in Tokyo—without war or huge earthquakes—has contributed to cultivating a city that values quality over quantity, I think in reality it is livelihood that is servicing capital and industry.

From the outside, 1964–2020 in Japan seems to be a very positive and optimistic period of growth. Is that true?

Since World War II, we had grown in both population and economically until around 1990. Various urban institutions were created with great productivity and enthusiasm. Especially in the 1960s—15 years after the end of the war—young architects were allowed to creatively contribute to diverse architectural designs. Now, in contrast to those times, the institutions that were built in the 20th century are showing their age and need to be renovated. In high-value areas in central Tokyo, there is an incentive for large capital and organizations to move toward mass redevelopment that increases the total floor space, thus covering operating costs. On the other hand, buildings in the other areas are left to the tides of time and tend to be unoccupied and deteriorating. These buildings are often revitalized by young architects and activities rooted in their neighborhoods. In short, bipolarization is happening, and we cannot be positive about the situation.

Now we are moving to the idea of “revival” and localism of the countryside rather than Tokyo’s centralism. Tokyo has been established on the support of the rural areas, but the fact has become more apparent and Tokyo is getting situated as one of the cities in the network of lives.

You include several avant-garde artworks, including some performance pieces, that are critical of Japanese economic development and consumerism. How do those fit into your narrative? Why did you include them?

They show what “ambiences” are surrounding architecture in each era. Along with focusing on urban institutions, we would also like visitors to imagine the backgrounds and conditions that surround the institutions.

(These responses were translated from Japanese into English.)

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I Wanna Be Down

ArtCenter to take over old Main Museum space in Downtown Los Angeles
ArtCenter College of Design is making a play for the old Main Museum space in Downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times reported that the Pasadena, California-based college has signed on to take over the 6,250-square-foot facility that had been occupied by The Main Museum until late last year when the institution abruptly and mysteriously shuttered.
ArtCenter president Lorne Buchman told The Times that the new space will give the school a foothold in L.A.’s bustling downtown, which has seen a flurry of arts-related activity over the past 20 years as major cultural venues and institutions have sprung up and expanded to the area. The move, according to Buchman, will also change ArtCenter’s reputation for being located in “the hinterlands” of Pasadena, a wealthy suburban enclave located 10 miles east of Downtown L.A.
Buchman said, “I’m excited about our students being able to be in that location and engage that community—that will make a huge difference.” The announcement came roughly six months after Main Museum director Allison Agsten penned a brief letter on the museum’s website announcing that ArtCenter and The Main Museum’s founder, real estate developer Tom Gilmore, were discussing “future plans [for] the space.” The announcement scuttled expansion designs for The Main Museum by Tom Wiscombe Architecture that would have added a new roof terrace to the Hellman Building, a historic mercantile office building opened in 1903.
Under the new agreement, ArtCenter will lease the space for $1 per year for the next 10 years and will have the option to renew the lease in the future.
The ArtCenter outpost will join the Diller Scofidio + Renfro–designed Broad Museum and the forthcoming wHY-designed Institute of Contemporary Art Los Angeles as recent newcomers to the Downtown L.A. art scene. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles recently announced that it would be relocating its architecture galleries from the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood to the Frank Gehry–designed Geffen Contemporary outpost in nearby Little Tokyo, as well.
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Before the Deluge

AIANY misses the mark with its photography show of Syrian architecture
Last month, I attended the opening of an exhibition by the American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter (AIANY) at the Center for Architecture, showcasing photographs of ancient Syrian architecture and civilization. The exhibition, titled ​Syria Before the Deluge​, was by far the most disappointing and superficial work I’ve seen displayed at AIANY. At first, I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was bothering me so much about this elegant display of black and white photographs of ancient Syrian landmarks. After all, I’m a Syrian architect and I should be thrilled for an event that is calling attention to Syria’s ancient civilization and architecture, especially when delivered by a renowned architectural photographer, Peter Aaron. But the truth of the matter is that this exhibition failed to inform the audience of anything of value about the history of present of Syria, a country whose history, like its architecture, has been shaped and reshaped by the rule of a totalitarian barbaric regime that systematically plundered and reduced Syria’s history over the past six decades to what we see today, and what Aaron photographed in his 2009 visit. The photographs showcase Aleppo and Palmyra, two of Syria’s most iconic jewels. Yet nowhere on the walls of the exhibition is there a mention of the residents of Aleppo, or Palmyra, or Damascus, whose ancestors built these ruins. All that is shown are pictures of ancient structures with sympathy-provoking captions like ​“this structure was destroyed during the civil war in 2015.” Nowhere does it say who bombed the iconic Umayyad Mosque’s minaret in Aleppo, burned the city’s historic Souk, turned the Citadel of Aleppo into a military barrack, and caused the displacement of half of Syria’s population. These issues were simply left out of the exhibit narrative. The exhibit also fails to mention those who systematically looted Palmyra’s treasures since the 1950s and turned the very name of Palmyra into a symbol of terror for millions of Syrians due to the infamous Palmyra prison. A high-security prison in the middle of the desert that allegedly witnessed the most gruesome massacres against political activists among countless other violations of human rights during the Assad ruling. None of that was in the exhibit. Just an orientalist, romanticized narrative about a beautiful civilization that once was but is no more. Occasionally, Isis is cited as the force of evil that ruined what is portrayed as ancient oriental heaven of architecture and civilization.   In the abstract introduction to the event, Aaron writes: “[Syria’s] tolerant atmosphere has quickly disintegrated due to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism,” a statement that couldn’t be further from the truth. The Syrian society was ravaged by the Ba’ath regime's tactics of planting fear and mistrust between minorities and the Muslim majority over decades of an authoritarian ruling. In one corner of the exhibit, the curators reach peak tone-deafness with a picture that shows a young man riding a horse with a massive picture of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator, in the background, with the caption reading: “Portrait of President Bashar al-Assad at a private riding club in the Damascus suburbs.” No mention of the 500,000 that this president is accused of killing over the past eight years. Throughout the event, the war is referred to as the “Syrian Civil War.” I personally find that term lacking in nuance and indicative of ignorance in the Syrian cause. Anyone who’s done any amount of reading about Syria would know that this naming is both factually and morally wrong. Factually, because when Russian air fighters are bombing rebelling neighborhoods with the support of Iranian ground troops, it’s not so much of a civil war as a proxy war involving two of the world’s most notorious armies spending billions of dollars to preserve the ruling of their puppet in Damascus. It’s also morally wrong to equal a rebelling people, that was bombarded, displaced, and starved for eight years after demanding freedom and democracy, with a regime that unapologetically used chemical weapons against that same people. When I raised these issues to a Syrian friend, she wondered about why I would raise political issues in an architectural event. A few months back, I attended an event at AIANY where my former Columbia professor, Michael Murphy, talked with Michael Sorkin about the political aspect of architecture. The event was titled ​Architecture is Never Neutral​ and it portrayed a very different narrative from the one I saw last week. That event explored in depth how being “apolitical” is the most political act anyone can take in situations of injustice. Syria is far from being an exception to that rule. This exhibit not only failed Syrians by failing to tell the true story of their country, but also failed the visitors who will leave knowing little about the current status of a 4,000-year-old civilization, and the ancestors who built that civilization. AIANY can take steps to make the remainder of this exhibit a more nuanced representation of Syria’s recent history by recaptioning the photographs to be more reflective of Syria’s current state, starting with the picture of Syria’s ruthless tyrant, Bashar al-Assad.