Posts tagged with "Books":

Towards Openness, Book Launch at NEW Inc.

Book Launch and Discussion with authors Li Hu and Huang Wenjing of OPEN Architecture Drawn from keen observation of the rapidly changing social economic landscape of China, and using OPEN Architecture’s projects as case studies, Towards Openness is a symphony of seven built projects and six idea chapters that are interestingly interwoven to offer an in-depth examination of OPEN’s unique practice and the critical thinking underlying its work. OPEN is a passionate team of designers, collaborating across different disciplines to practice urban design, landscape design, architectural design and interior design, as well as the research and production of design strategies in the context of new challenges. Authors Li Hu and Huang Wenjing will introduce the book and discuss current work. The book will be available for sale at the event. www.openarch.com If you are not a member of the GSAPP Incubator or NEW INC community and would like to attend this event, please RSVP.
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AN rounds up our favorite tech books of 2018

Art and architecture have always been inexorably intertwined, as new innovations in materials and construction allow buildings to rise higher and branch out into experimental new forms. But after concrete, high-rise timber, and advances in digital design, how will the field continue to progress? What new technologies and typologies will arise in the future, and how can architects and designers not only adapt, but thrive? Below is a roundup of some of 2017 and 2018’s best books on digital fabrication, robotics, redefining architectural scale, and guides on how to design for a science fiction future. Towards a Robotic Architecture Mahesh Daas and Andrew John Wit ORO Editions $40.06 As Le Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture advocated for an architectural movement unburdened by the weight of historical convention, Towards a Robotic Architecture implores readers to consider what the field will become once automation and robotics fully come of age. Through a series of case studies, Daas and Wit examine cutting-edge fabrication techniques, buildings that interact with their occupants, additive manufacturing, drone-based construction, and the realization of previously impossible forms. 3D Thinking in Design and Architecture: From Antiquity to the Future Roger Burrows Thames & Hudson Pre-order for $41.25, to be released on May 15, 2018 How did the architectural designers of the past work within the confines of numerical systems built on whole numbers? How has the progression of mathematical knowledge influenced the way we see the world? In 3D Thinking in Design and Architecture, Burrows charts the intertwined evolution of geometry and visual logic from the dawn of civilization to the present and beyond. Active Matter Skylar Tibbits MIT Press $32.31 Fabrication has made leaps and bounds over the last few centuries, but material science has made just as many intriguing advances. In Active Matter, Skylar Tibbits curates a discussion between artists, scientists and designers who are working on the cutting-edge of transforming materials, from self-forming furniture to eye-tracking clothing, to pavilions wound up with explosive force. Responsive Landscapes: Strategies for Responsive Technologies in Landscape Architecture Bradley Cantrell and Justine Holzman Routledge $52.22 Landscape architecture is often left out of the conversation when talking about technology, but sensors, advanced modeling techniques and robotic manufacturing will eventually cause a seismic shift in landscape architecture. Responsive Landscapes explores how designers are working to future-proof their landscapes against climate change, monitor usage patterns, and track pollution on their sites, and what the future might hold for the profession. Technically this book was released at the tail end of 2015, but it sheds light on an oft-overlooked part of the field. Hello, Robot.: Design Between Human and Machine Mateo Kries Vitra Design Museum $40.14 Pushing the boundaries of architecture with robotics is one thing, but how do humans interact with and relate to robots? Hello, Robot argues that robots are much more than powerful tools, having preoccupied the human imagination for thousands of years in one form or another. As their presence becomes more commonplace, humans begin to soften and anthropomorphize robots, and they become much more than machines that imitate human effort. Faster, Smarter, Greener: The Future of the Car and Urban Mobility Venkat Sumantran, Charles Fine and David Gonsalvez MIT Press $26.95 Automobiles dominated the twentieth century, with infrastructure around the world built to accommodate unending stretches of roads and interchanges, often to the detriment of surrounding communities. As Faster, Smarter, Greener puts forth though, that outdated method city planning is about to be radically changed as smart, interconnected vehicles will give rise to a new, cleaner age of mobile efficiency. Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello Princeton Architectural Press Pre-order for $29.95, to be released on May 1, 2018 3-D printing and the world of architecture and design are natural fits for each other, as the technology allows for rapid prototyping and model-making at a low cost. Printing Architecture runs readers through a series of case studies, from small household items all the way up to complex 3-D-printed structures, to give ground-up examples of how the technology will change the design field. Robot House: Instrumentation, Representation, Fabrication Peter Testa Thames & Hudson $26.99 Robotics are becoming more and more ingrained in our homes, offices, schools and third places, but are we tapping their full potential? Robot House examines robotics through the three “P’s,” projects, principles and platforms, exploring how robots are used, operated and thought about. Every book on this list was selected independently by AN's team of editors. If you buy something via the embedded links, AN will earn a commission. 
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In "Nincompoopolis," Boris Johnson’s architectural follies mask even bigger failures

For the U.K.’s latest passport design, a page is dedicated to British-Indian artist, Anish Kapoor. This is nothing untoward; Kapoor is a distinguished artist both nationally and on the world stage. On the page are three of his works: Marsyas, Temenos, and the Orbit, the latter of which was designed with the help of equally esteemed British engineer, Cecil Balmond.

At 377 feet, the Orbit is Britain’s tallest sculpture. A press release for its 2014 re-opening proudly proclaims that the ArcelorMittal Orbit—to call it its official name after Indian steel giant Lakshmi Mittal—“originated in 2009 when [former] London Mayor Boris Johnson launched a competition to design a sculpture for the Olympic Park.”

The term sculpture is perhaps too kind, since the Orbit looks like Kapoor and Balmond both sneezed while trying to wrest control of the mouse with Rhino running on the computer. Today, despite adding a slide, it costs the taxpayer $13,100 a week to keep running. The omnipresent Orbit looms over the London 2012 Olympic site in the London borough of Newham and now the work—an inescapable reminder of Johnson’s eagerness to create an icon—will follow Britons around the globe.

Though a picture is sometimes worth a thousand words, thankfully there is better documentation of Johnson’s foibles in the built environment. Critic Douglas Murphy’s Nincompoopolis: The Follies of Boris Johnson, does this superbly and goes beyond, relating it to Johnson’s ironic ineptitude on more serious issues with real-world ramifications, such as the Heygate Estate evictions in South London. In this instance, Johnson remarked that it was “vital we push forward with work to unlock the economic potential” of the area as he approved the replacement masterplan, seemingly oblivious of the implications. The estates were home to more than 3,000 people. 

The darker manifestation’s of Johnson’s mayoralty come later in the book, which is laid out in two parts: Johnson the architectural meddler comes first and Johnson the hapless, apathetic, and willfully ignorant politician, after. In this sense, Murphy’s depressingly long catalogue of Johnson’s errors posits the more obvious architectural blunders as a mask to his more inimical failings.

To make the grim reading digestible, Nincompoopolis is filled with personal touches from Murphy (all but two of the images used are the author's own) who found himself in London just as Johnson took the reins in 2008. His sophisticated anger is both fitting and relevant, delivered with a dry sense of humor, as he dismantles everything wrong with each project, from the process (or lack of it) to the final product. The reader is doused with lashings of context, followed by a predictable punchline: Johnson.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The Garden Bridge, with a corrupt tendering process in which Johnson played a central role, was scrapped by incumbent Mayor Sadiq Kahn. A shopping mall version of the Crystal Palace was another near-miss, and orders have been stopped on the New Routemaster London bus. These failed follies can hardly be classed as wins, however, with millions of dollars of public money having already been squandered on them.

Perhaps a bright spot can be found in the socially-minded work of Peter Barber Architects, which Murphy duly mentions. Johnson is also credited for issuing new housing standards in the shape of the London Housing Design Guide which, bemusingly for him given his track record, called for less “iconic” architecture and beckoned in the “New London Vernacular.” However, as Murphy points out, much of this genuinely good work rides on the legacy of former mayor Ken Livingstone, who worked with Richard Rogers during his time as mayor. “In a city that has been undergoing so much housing struggle, no amount of tasteful brick detailing can mask the problems,” Murphy remarks.

The bearer of an American passport which reads “Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson,” London’s former Mayor will never have to suffer the full consequences of Brexit, in which he played a leading role. Nor will he have to look at the Orbit embarrassingly sprawled across a page of official national documentation.

Brexit, hopefully, was Johnson’s political swan-song. It made sense as well. The Routemaster and Crystal Palace fiascos were projects inspired by a misplaced public love of nostalgia, to which Johnson, seeing his chance as a so-called man of the people, rushed ham-handedly to cater to.

Inspiration also came from New York, where Johnson was born, but again, these ideas were executed in the wrong way. The High Line’s success spurred the Garden Bridge into almost becoming a reality, but ignored the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Johnson was determined to emulate the grandeur of antiquated world expos, but this somehow resulted in the Orbit and nearly led to a enormous glass mall, neither of which approached the legacy of 1964.

Nincompoopolis is a playful word, more endearing than insulting. However, Murphy does not shy away from showing that beneath Johnson’s boyish bravado and messy hair, depicted atop the Orbit on the book's coveris a more clueless and sinister character.

Nincompoopolis: The Follies of Boris Johnson Repeater Books $10.00

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Storefront for Art and Architecture asks: What are the books yet to be written?

On Saturday, September 23, Storefront for Art and Architecture will launch the New York Architecture Book Fair with a day-long conference, Architecture Books / Yet to be Written / 1982-2017-2052. The event will ask architects to think about the past and future of architectural publication, enlisting critical voices in the field, including: Diana Agrest, Stan Allen, Amale Andraos, Harry Cobb, Beatriz Colomina, Reinier de Graaf, Peggy Deamer, Elizabeth Diller, Steven Holl, Sanford Kwinter, Daniel Libeskind, Thom Mayne, Enrique Norten, Toshiko Mori, Joan Ockman, Spyridon Papapetros, Brett Steele, Bernard Tschumi, Anthony Vidler, Rafael Viñoly, Mark Wigley, James Wines, and others. This conference is presented in partnership with The Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture of The Cooper Union. Each participant has been asked to present a book published in the past 35 years that they consider to be essential reading on contemporary architecture, as well as to imagine a publication for the future, a “book yet to be written.” Due to the waning number of architecture bookstores across New York, this Storefront event and attendant book fair intends to fill the gap for enthusiasts of architecture and urban speculation in print. At the conference, Storefront will also present BOOKS-NOW, a selection of signed architecture books published over the last year at a discounted rate. The New York Architecture Book Fair will open in June 2018 at Storefront's gallery space as well as at bookstores and homes across New York. Architecture Books / Yet to be Written / 1982-2017-2052 Time: Saturday, September 23 1:00 – 6:00 p.m. Location: The Great Hall at Cooper Union, 30 Cooper Square RSVP here for the event.
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What can architects learn from Walmart's fulfillment centers?

Architects are fascinated with infrastructure, or better yet, anxious about it. Infrastructure is far larger and more pervasive, blanketing the earth with its concrete and asphalt, yet it also threatens architecture with irrelevance. Infrastructural architecture is dangerous: The ubiquitous big box that houses warehouses, distribution centers, data centers, and processing plants is optimized to the point that architects are excluded. Perhaps because of this, condition studies of the big box and its implications have been wanting. Jesse LeCavalier’s The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment helps fill the void. As the title makes clear, LeCavalier focuses on the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, and how its overarching obsession with optimizing logistics manifests itself in built form. For those interested in the dangerous encounter of architecture and infrastructure, the book is worth reading. While LeCavalier’s book is an academic study, it eschews the empty and abstruse theorizing that has marked such recent efforts, producing the best book on architecture and infrastructure of this decade. The book is composed of five chapters bracketed by an introduction and conclusion: “Logistics,” which delineates LeCavalier’s thesis, followed by “Buildings,” “Locations,” “Bodies,” and “Territory,” each of which explores how Walmart embodies logistics in a different condition. Logistics, LeCavalier argues, has taken over from mass production and become the new organizational paradigm for our age. Where mass production was formed around relatively stable, physical forms of organization, logistics is ever mutable and contingent, constantly responding to the conditions it encounters. The built products of logistics embody this condition, with the stability of carefully designed envelopes giving way to what he calls “a constantly transforming network of calibrated and interconnected interiors.” It’s this point that’s crucial to those of us hoping to understand the “big box.” This term “big box,” LeCavalier points out, belies the complexity of the horizontal surfaces of floorplate and roof, which gives the building its infrastructural capacity to optimize throughput, notably by eliminating as much of the back area of the store as possible. In opposition to any idea of architecture as autonomous form, the exterior adapts to make the store tolerable whatever the local condition. LeCavalier painstakingly details case studies of the negotiations Walmart makes with local planning authorities and the resulting effect on the (endlessly mutable) building envelopes of its stores. LeCavalier observes that, in a paradoxical twist, form and building envelope take precedence at Walmart’s data centers since the rapid rate of change of digital technology ensures that those buildings need to be planned before a final layout can be envisioned. But to talk of Walmart’s data centers as formally intended is itself a paradox: The goal of these structures is to disappear through camouflage. At times I wanted the book to be more architectural—to have larger illustrations and in color. Recently many of University of Minnesota’s publications have given the impression of being published on demand by Blurb or Lulu and the squat format and the quality of the cover underscores this. But ultimately this allows the book to be more manual-like, more like the precipitation of information from a manual of logistics into physical form and that fits the subject matter well, so I can’t complain. More disappointing is that the drawings by LeCavalier, one of our most accomplished draughtsmen, are small and hard to read, but again this seems a decision of the press rather than the author. Moreover, had the book been a glossy architectural publication, it might have compromised the argument. Still, I wished to see LeCavalier brilliant analytic axonometric drawings included in some form. Perhaps a future publication will follow containing more of these.
The Rule of Logistics is an important book. For too long, what passes for the avant-garde has chased form for form’s sake, to embody the triumphant exuberance of the city and its neoliberal boosters. But last November, blue lost and red won, urban elites were undone by the heartland working class, the culture of Whole Foods shown up by that of Walmart. LeCavalier’s book, published some months before the election, underscores that the heartland is as permeated by the forces of the network as the urban center. The Rule of Logistics allows us to decode the spatial implications of this condition even as it suggests that architecture needs to learn from the architecture of the big box, much like it did from grain silos and factories in the early 20th century. Just as the election served as a wake-up call to well-intentioned urban liberals, The Rule of Logistics reminds architects that the most advanced work in the built domain is not in the city but in the sprawl outside it, that it’s not cool form but efficient logistical operations that pave the way to our future. The Rule of Logistics: Walmart and the Architecture of Fulfillment by Jesse LeCavalier University of Minnesota Press, $30.00 Kazys Varnelis is the director of the Network Architecture Lab and cofounder of AUDC, as well as the author of several books about infrastructure and network culture.
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Digital Frank Lloyd Wright catalogue is almost as good as the hardcover

In conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: Unpacking the Archive, a new online version of the exhibition catalogue book is now available to preview and purchase. 

Unlike a standard ebook, this digital version is designed specifically for an art book reading experience. While the catalogue is available in print format—and there still is nothing like thumbing through physical pages—the digitized version offers a user-friendly interface whose features make up for the lack of tactility.

Published through Musebooks, perhaps the best feature of this digital version is the ability to toggle between text view, image view, and page view while staying in the same section. The image view compiles all of the catalogue’s illustrations into one webpage and allows readers to zoom into the detailed drawings without losing much of the resolution, a feature that is critical for discerning readers.

The catalogue and exhibition highlight Wright’s expansive practice and feature architectural drawings, models, furniture, films, and television broadcasts. Focusing on objects from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives, they include essays penned by architecture professors and critics like Mabel O. Wilson, Michael Desmond, and Ken Tadashi Oshima, accompanied by almost 300 illustrations.

A preview of the digital version of Frank Lloyd Wright: Unpacking the Archive is available through Musebooks, where it is also being sold for $25.99. (The hardcover, meanwhile, will set you back $44.15 on Amazon.)

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This graphic novel aims to shape Chicago’s next generation of city planners

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF)'s latest venture is an educational graphic novel about urban planning and its challenges. While the book—titled No Small Plans—raises questions that aren’t new, it serves as an introduction for its target audience, namely children in grades six to ten. It’s tough to write a book for young teenagers on issues like urban planning, civic engagement, and the socioeconomic factors that shape our cities today, but No Small Plans, armed with colorful drawings and references to modern day life, brings light to these topics. As part of its 50th-anniversary celebrations, the CAF published No Small Plans and modeled it after Wacker’s Manual, a 1911 textbook on Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan for Chicago. Wacker’s Manual was required reading for eighth graders in Chicago Public Schools for at least three decades and it aimed to engage children with Burnham’s grand, ‘City Beautiful’ vision for Chicago. No Small Plans, by Gabrielle Lyon and in partnership with Eyes of the Cat Illustration, has the same goal and will be taught in the city’s public school starting this year. It’s a reimagined Wacker’s Manual, in a 21st-century medium, to help young Chicagoans envision and build a city that they want now, and in the future. The graphic novel is split into three different time periods: the past (1928), present (2017), and future (2211). Each section follows different groups, all of whom are grappling with different issues such as racial discrimination, gentrification, affordable housing, zoning, and community engagement. It’s set in the Chicago we know today, featuring sites like the Chicago Theatre and the 606. It’s also a dive into what Chicago’s future could be. In the year 2211, the book depicts Chicago so fractured that virtual reality is the only means of connecting people between different neighborhoods. The lack of “real facing” (i.e. actual human interaction) has led to a disconnect between what residents need and what big-time developers plan for the city. The book is an attempt to bridge the civic education gap: low-income students, students of color, and those not planning to attend college have fewer opportunities to engage with questions every young city resident should be thinking about, according to Lyon. “When young people have opportunities to consider questions like the ones the characters wrestle with in No Small Plans, it makes a difference,” Lyon said in a press release. The book’s success on Kickstarter—raising more than double of its $20,000 goal—is an indication that the questions of what makes a city livable and how to foster civic identity are ones that Chicagoans both old and young are interested in. Thirty thousand free copies will be distributed over the next three years. No Small Plans is available to purchase through CAF's website.
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Cataloging Detroit over 25 years, Camilo Jose Vergara has documented the city's decline and decay

Every so often, images of abandoned buildings circulate cyberspace, populating blogs or other online outlets in the form of slideshows and photo series. Chances are that if you have come across such photography, that you have seen the work of Camilo Jose Vergara. The photographer and writer specializes in capturing ruins and settings in states of decay and has become known for revisiting sites and producing a chronology of their fate. In 2013, he received the National Humanities Medal from President Obama, being the first photographer to be awarded the medal. Vergara is prolific. The 73-year-old from Santiago, Chile has produced seven books that document dereliction in Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, Camden, New York, and Detroit. His work builds on that of Jacob Riis, a 19th-century documentarian who published the landmark book, How the Other Half Lives, in 1890. Times have indeed changed since then, however, and Vergara's work remains relevant. "All of this comes from the idea that the real poor and segregated neighborhoods are different in every aspect," he told me as we drank beers on the rooftop of his Morningside Heights apartment. "It's the idea that you have separate Americas... what really fascinates me is the history of places that are in decline because everybody concentrates on the history of places that are moving up, but the other process is just as interesting. It involves people, people coping with their circumstances and its arresting visually too." Over the course of numerous decades, Vergara, a MacArthur Award winner in 2002, has revisited the aforementioned cities, capturing their evolving urban and suburban environments. His methodology is meticulous, returning to the exact same point time and time again to take the same photograph, while also speaking to the local residents. While he occasionally takes portraits of those that approach him, Vergara prefers to shoot buildings and streetscapes as they represent, in his eyes, a place more accurately. "You develop a relationship with the city," he said. "You don't declare that you're going 'steady' with that city until you're going to be back unless you have some assurance that you're going to do it—it's like having a girlfriend." So how do you do it? "You need the money to go there on a regular basis; you need somebody to put you up, or enough money to pay for a hotel; you need money to rent a car, and all of those things are expensive," he explained. Detroit, in particular, became available to Vergara on a regular basis in 1991 when his brother-in-law purchased a building there that was only ever two-thirds occupied. All he needed, he proclaimed, was a mattress and he was set. Before the internet, getting back to an exact location required lots of notetaking. Besides location, Vergara added, the same lens is required and the lighting needs to be similar, if not the same (so you have to be there at the same time of day). "And then sometimes it is rush hour and traffic is in the way, or you have you park your car in the middle of the street and stand up on the roof," Vergara continued "I do that all the time! The car is running, I'm up on the roof, but I can get away quickly if I needed to." But sometimes this zealousness has its consequences. In Detroit, Vergara was once reminded of the city's tensions. "One time a man showed me his gun, he didn't point it at me, just showed it to me." He laughed, apparently unphased by this experience. "I went to the police station and told them and they said, 'What business do you have coming to this neighborhood?' Apparently, I didn't have the right to complain." Other dissenters of Vergara deride his (and his contemporaries') work as socially irresponsible poverty porn. Vergara considers this an "absurd accusation." His view is that derelict structures have permanency, history, "feed the imagination," and sometimes, can be a device to propagate the development of their surroundings. "A problem folks who are interested in poverty and ruins deal with is that ruins tend to be very beautiful," Vergara elaborated. "The most magnificent ruins are from buildings that were spectacular to begin with." "There is more than one way to look at my work," he continued. "One way is to look at it, say 'nice' then forget about it. But then maybe other people want to find out more about what they are looking at. Those people would find what I am talking about—the context." Vergara couples short essays and interviews with his work; he is a sociological documentarian more so than just a mere photographer. "The context I think adds interest and gives it relevance." As for carrying out his work, Google Maps, he said, is making things easier. "It has changed they way I work tremendously. Before I go back to reshoot a location, I look at my old photographs and think to myself, 'What's around this place?' There is no way in the world I am going to photograph every building in Detroit so I use Google Streetview, using the time sequences they offer as well as my own work. After all this, I have a pretty good idea of what I want." Both online and in real life, Vergara has been roaming Detroit's poor neighborhoods, visiting housings projects and rooftops. I asked him if, despite being from Santiago and now living in New York, if he felt like a citizen of Detroit. "I feel like I am a citizen of the ghetto because those are the places I know the best," he replied, referencing the ghettos of Camden, Newark, South Chicago and Harlem as well. Detroit, though, has been Vergara's main focus. It was the city where his love of ruins brought him to and it is also the city on which he focuses on in his latest book, Detroit Is No Dry Bones: The Eternal City of the Industrial Age. Every year, for the past 25 years, the documentarian has visited the city for at least a week. The book catalogs Detroit's ill-fated suburbs, the city center's partial revival, as well as murals, churches, and signage. The latter is indicative of Detroit's changing landscape and morphing typologies. "The signs I photograph stand for the culture that has been developed over many decades," Vergara said. The subject of signage is even more poignant in Detroit, too, in a city that once produced the automobiles of America—cars that symbolized success and the American dream. Over time, the city's car mechanics and garages transformed into cheaper-to-run car washes, and drive-ins, as money left the area. "It's not just the white flight, it's the money flight," Vergara remarked. More than automobile imagery, Vergara argued religious signage is more representative of Detroit's visual culture. It's residents, he says in his most recent book, are waiting for God to save the city. In one instance, on 14849 Livernois Avenue, a church photographed in 2000 changes to become home to "Motor Sales." Vergara, on his rooftop with me, called these "storefront churches." This theme has been prevalent in his work for some time, most notably seen in his book, How the Other Half Worships, an explicit nod to Riis that tracked how poor neighborhoods embraced religion. Murals and signage are important to Vergara. In 2015 he was invited to speak at the Black In Design conference at Harvard University. "You think they're going to get the sign painter that worked for car washers in Detroit?" he asked me. "No. They got designers that went to Ivy League schools and worked at high-end firms. "That leaves out this visual culture." "I like to call attention to this," he continued, evidently agitated. "You can't just ignore segregated areas like you get in Detroit where people have been there for decades and don't have the money to move." Another annoyance of his is how new, predominantly white residents, who set up shops, bars, and restaurants in Detroit's downtown, display images from the 1930s and '50s. "My beef is, why don't you use the visual culture that was born from the riots?" (This year will be the 50th anniversary of the Detroit riots. A film called Detroit is coming out this August to mark the event.) In a lecture at M.I.T. this year, he furthered this sentiment, pointing out how neighborhood artists are unaware of how to publicize their work due to issues such as not having an email account of having their phones disconnected. Of the artists he had spoken to, some had either done time in jail, were homeless, sick, or made money away from art. "In contrast, white artists are often represented by galleries and are able to apply for and receive foundation grants," he said. "Local sign painters and commercial artists with a shrinking neighborhood market see their work further diminish as handmade signs are replaced by vinyl signs made inexpensively by commercial printers." In that same lecture, he added that it is his goal to acknowledge the "history and achievements" of people from Detroit's segregated neighborhoods, "no matter how insignificant they may seem to the rest of the nation. I also try to answer the question, 'What happens next?' as I track these neighborhoods within the city’s larger evolution." Vergara's answer to that question is bleak. To him, there appears to be "no way" of improving the living conditions of the majority of the population. "A dual city continues to develop in which a growing educated population is surrounded by 131 square miles of decline, where poor African Americans survive amidst decaying buildings and empty lots." As the original population flees the poverty stricken suburbs, local businesses such as dry cleaners or barbershops become unsustainable, a scenario Vergara only sees worsening. "Already a quarter of a century ago, black Detroiters believed that the city might not be theirs for very long," he said. "Now throughout Detroit one can find adumbrations of a white paradise of bed and breakfasts, fruit orchards, woodlands, goat farms and artists’ lofts." And as for what happens next to his own work? "Whether or not my work is used in 30 years time, I do not know," he answered. "But it will be preserved because the library of congress purchased my collection." Vergara does, however, have a proposal for Detroit. "As a lifelong documentarian of the ephemeral visual culture of the American ghetto, I believe that the weathered commercial signs with their whimsical lettering, the religious imagery, the Afrocentric historical murals and the memorials to the dead found in the city’s neglected neighborhoods are defining elements of the Detroit spirit." This visual culture, he attests, is overlooked by companies such as Shinola who prefer to reference the industrial age of Motor City. The artwork and signage by locals, argues Vergara, must be preserved and thus acknowledged by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and furthermore, this art should be encouraged. In addition to this, he calls for the production and worldwide marketing of luxuries (such as the products from Shinola) made out of street art, with some of the profit going back to the neighborhoods. "Detroit has a history that hasn't been told all that much, if at all. This is what I am trying to do."
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An examination of the relationship between architecture and the site by Caroline O'Donnell

Niche Tactics, a collection of essays edited by Caroline O’Donnell, approaches architecture as a living entity with a symbiotic relationship to its environment. She starts with contrasting bubble metaphors, the “ecological bubbles” of biologist Jakob von Uexkull, who studied creatures’ particular stimuli—blood for ticks, pollen for bees—with the Corbusian bubble that focuses on interior space shaped by program. External forces will burst the bubble rather than merely deform it if it isn’t designed for its ecology or able to adapt.

O’Donnell also bases her studies on Greg Lynn’s evolution of formalism unleashed from typological constraints. To this strategy, she adds the tactical niche, which references the components and resources of a habitat that influence survival. She takes us through a breadth of history, theory and cultural studies—from the Renaissance and the Picturesque, to Vitruvius and Palladio, to Colin Rowe and Peter Cook, and from sustainability and phenomenology to film and comedy—examining objects’ relations to their contexts and how this relates to architecture. Along the way she shows that basic principles of symmetry, proportion, and typology are not antithetical to an ecologically responsive architecture.

However, radical practices often get slapped with the “weird shape” or formalism label, so it’s encouraging to trace a trajectory from Rudolf Wittkower to Nikolaus Pevsner and Rowe, whose own studies of the analytic and the collage are found in O’Donnell’s research of context. Ideal Palladian villas are reintroduced to their country settings, and churches yield their historically typological forms to exaggerated responses to wind, solar, and urban orientation. Considering the urban, O’Donnell speculates what would have emerged had Le Corbusier’s clean sweep of the Plan Voisin grid considered cultural and civic landmarks as interferences. However, none of this is really all that new, foreign, or radical. The original Citicorp Center tower gave way to its site, the economics and air rights of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, and O’Donnell shows how Manhattan’s gridiron deforms when confronting natural features, such as those of Morningside Park.

Moving into contemporary practice, O’Donnell reminds readers that the iterations initiated by Lynn grew from specific conditions, often dealing more with environment and evolution than more recent strategies such as application scripts and parametricism. A couple chapters addressing monsters and notions of ugliness are useful in describing how appearances that deviate from our expectations may actually indicate something more in tune with their environment or be on their way to a new “species” of architecture.

While O’Donnell laces her text with examples of analyzing and implementing contextual forces in projects, she saves the final chapter for examples of her own firm’s works. While some are no more than a paragraph, others elicit a more thorough explanation, such as her firm’s MoMA/PS1 Young Architects Program winning entry Party Wall, to show how one can design to respond to site, urban context, history, and program.

The book is a welcome mix of the multidisciplinary—theory expands beyond formal analysis or historical indexing. O’Donnell combines those aspects with examples of projects in their environments, incorporating ecological and contextual referents into a living, evolving design practice. Ultimately O’Donnell argues for an ecological responsiveness to inform firmitas, utilitas, venustas contemporary architectural design.

Niche Tactics: Generative Relationships between Architecture and Site Caroline O’Donnell Routledge $59.95

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London is a playground for Pritzker Prize winners, as this book demonstrates

“Context,” “vernacular,” and “reference” were the architectural buzzwords of choice that critic Owen Hatherley, at the start of 2017, used to recall the Architectural Review’s “Townscape” campaign. Here, he postulated that enhancing the old can be achieved by celebrating the new and serve as a deterrence to bland homogeneity. In London, viewing architecture without actually experiencing it in person is dominated by two abstract frames of reference: Instagram and flying things.

The former has helped to articulate a trend of austerity nostalgia and pastiche faux edginess, all bound by a medium that aestheticizes a bygone era and conveniently filters out context. It is, however, a deeply personal medium. The latter, meanwhile, depicts architecture within the cityscape and typically from above; lashings of context, yet devoid of any personal meaning seeing as very few of us can afford to travel by helicopter, and even fewer are birds.

New Architecture London, refreshingly and succinctly, makes no allusions as to what it's about through its title—not London looking nervously over its shoulder through rose-tinted spectacles, nor blind developer-driven optimism, this is the city as if were you to wander it right now.

Across 163 pages, photographers, Agnese Sanvito and Richard Schulman present a perpetually changing London in the “now;” a city, evidently rich in history, but not bound by it. For Schulman portraits of architects—and not just their buildings—is a hallmark of his work. While no portraits are featured in this book, it operates at a personal level with Schulman and Sanvito's lenses curating a pedestrian perspective of the city’s contemporary buildings.

In his foreword to the book, critic Edwin Heathcote describes Norman Foster's 30 St. Mary Axe (known by its colloquial moniker: The Gherkin) as a "bullet emerging from a city that has been bombed three times in a century." “Now it can barely be seen,” he continues, noting the structure as a stylistic and typological catalyst for its more contemporary, Boris-approved counterparts. It’s not all heroic, however. A generation ago, as Heathcote acknowledges, London was populated by few structures by architects of international repute, but now it is a playground for Pritzker Prize winners to plonk their iconic structures.

When Renzo Piano's Shard is framed with the abstract geometry of more glass you wonder: if the U.K.'s tallest building wasn't in the picture, would we know what city we were in? On the next page, a counter: the Shard rising above a Georgian wall, amid an equally mundane, yet historically inflected setting. In both, the Shard is the only visual indicator of place, but how long will this continue to be the case? Heathcote remarks, though, “it’s not just [London’s] skyline that has seen radical changes; its streets and its public spaces are being transformed” too.

This is a precedent for the photographers' work which looks at the abstract and intimate relationship between old and new (Amanda Levette’s 10 Hills Place and RARE Architects’ Patriot Square being notable examples). It also allows London's new architecture, in light of Townscape, to frame and be framed by its context. This is achieved sometimes by letting reflections, light, and shadow alternate focal points. Other times, it is as Heathcote remarks, “glimpsed around corners… or poking above streets.”

The technique encourages you to seek the narrative of a place and imagine the moment which is presented, as Schulman’s photograph of Caruso St. John's RIBA Stirling Prize winning Newport Street Gallery demonstrates. Even if you don't know what a delayed Southwest train service destined for Waterloo sounds like, the act of placing yourself in that scene isn't hard as the skyward facing photograph frames the saw-toothed roof and train reflection in the gallery's windows. Sadly, however, this image is afforded little page space by Prestel. The same could be said for a few other images too.

The term "shot" perhaps is a disservice to the photograph. Implying it was taken sporadically in the moment (a trait intentionally and successfully articulated) hides the fact that Schulman, in fact, spent considerable time to capture the moment and essence of place—even if a particular place is lacking in just that. He typically visits sites 20-30 times before shooting. "To take great pictures, you have to be prepared to lie on your back in the middle of the street," he told me.

Or sometimes, you have to be in a gondola—the Emirates Airline to be precise—from which Wilkinson Eyre’s Emirates Royal Docks and the Crystal can be spied. A synopsis states the cable-car system “connects directly to the London Underground while granting passengers a much more absorbing visual experience.” Don’t be fooled. When the summer tourists disappear, the supposed infrastructure is a ghost town gimmick—and a costly one too.

The Emirates airline is the only transport-orientated project featured, which says a lot for London’s building priorities. It could be said today’s starchitects were beaten to the opportunity largely by the Victorians, but Norman Foster's British Museum proved great work can be done when working with buildings from this era. New Architecture London is also ordered as haphazardly as London itself. A chronological or geographical route through would have been handy.

Three brick blockbusters, O'Donnell + Tuomey's LSE Saw Swee Hock Student Center and Herzog de Meuron's Switch House, in addition to Newport Street Gallery, can be found at the end of the book and remind us that London was once a brick-built city; a gracious nod to, not fetishized fawning, of the past. Looking forward, meanwhile, is New London Architecture, presenting an honest and refreshing take on a city still working out where it wants to go.

New Architecture London Prestel $45.00

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Ambitious "Well-Tempered City" explains what makes cities work, from ancient Mesopotamia to Lagos and New York City

As a certain New York real estate figure thrusts a set of unpalatable values down the national throat, another local developer’s ideas are entering public discourse for better reasons. Jonathan Rose is, in important senses, the Antidrumpf: a developer who views the building of communities as an ethically consequential profession. He applies knowledge from nature and intercultural history to benefit entire populations. He advocates resilient development in sane, mature, well-evidenced, and convincing terms.

One finishes The Well-Tempered City with respect for a substantial contribution to the urbanist literature—and with the impression that in an administration dedicated to planetary and institutional stewardship, not plunder and bluster, Rose would merit a cabinet-level appointment. (Interior? HUD? Energy? A polymath like Rose could lead any of these departments.) The Well-Tempered City stands alongside works by Jane Jacobs, Lewis Mumford, and Christopher Alexander, deserving influence and implementation.

The enduring fivefold path

With ambitious scope and explanatory clarity, Rose offers a unified theory of urban history grounded in five core concepts: coherence, circularity, resilience, community, and compassion. He also identifies nine variables critical to the rise of ancient cities: cognition, cooperation, culture, calories (energy), connectivity, commerce, control, complexity, and concentration.

The alliterations may imply a professorial top-down scheme, but Rose infers the nine C-concepts from historical studies before elucidating how stagnation or resilience depends on “urban operating systems” promoting the five principles. Cities that manage resource flows efficiently, generate socially beneficial incentives, and respond to shocks have thrived (e.g., today’s Copenhagen or Singapore, the altitude-adaptive village of Shey, Tibet, or the flexibly organized cities of Islam’s golden age). Wasteful, dis- or over-organized, militaristic, and parasitic cities (e.g., imperial Rome) have ossified and decayed.

Rose distinguishes complication from complexity: the former merely reflects scale, while the latter describes volatile conditions where small inputs trigger large outputs. The acronym VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), he contends, describes urban as well as biological systems. Design suited to a VUCA environment will avoid the oversimplifications of 19th- and 20th-century planning by incorporating feedback phenomena and by continually adjusting incentives, technologies, balances among market and public-sector mechanisms, and other determinants of civic well-being. Ecosystems’ cyclical resource metabolisms are particularly important, avoiding linear extract-and-discard economies.

Déjà vu will kick in for readers of Jacobs, whose Death and Life chapter “The Kind of Problem a City Is” drew on Warren Weaver’s observations about “problems in organized complexity.” To this foundation Rose adds a broad familiarity with global cultural practices, evolutionary biology, archaeology, cognitive science, and network theory: He has the intellectual discipline to be usefully interdisciplinary.

Discussing how the efficiency metric of energy return on investment (the ratio of usable energy generated to energy spent creating it) correlates with civilizations’ rise and fall, he notes how China’s recent agricultural practices resemble those that doomed Rome for a thousand years; how New York, Detroit, Lagos, and Baltimore have benefited from better data collection; and how a Big Mac takes seven times as much energy to produce as it provides to its consumer. One strong chapter, “The Cognitive Ecology of Opportunity,” links the neurohormonal threat response of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis to environments that traumatize children, exacerbated by exposure to neurotoxins such as lead, producing vicious cycles of maladaptation and social isolation. Tragic cases like Freddie Gray’s death in a struggle with Baltimore police illuminate interwoven civic and individual pathologies.

Taking the polis in for a tune-up

Rose’s master metaphor is the tuning system popularized by Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, an advance beyond Pythagorean “just intonation” (grounded in astronomic-mathematical ratios and generating beautiful scales within each key, but unable to change keys without discord). Music from the baroque through bebop is inconceivable without it. Bach didn’t invent equal tempering; Rose scrupulously credits the discovery to Ming prince Zhu Zaiyu’s Fusion of Music and Calendar (1580), brought to Europe by a traveling monk and incorporated into German music theory by Andreas Werckmeister (1687), then into practice, gloriously, by Bach.

Conceiving harmony broadly, Rose looks to Mesopotamia for another key (if unfortunately named) concept. The societal codes that the Ubaid civilization (5500-4000 BCE) considered divinely ordained, known in Sumerian as meh, are the archetype for subsequent codes found across world history. Rose finds similar operating-system principles in Chinese nine-square geometric urban forms, Lübeck Law regulating trade in the Hanseatic League, and contemporary Smart Growth codes. Conversely, when civilizations embrace a poorly designed code—as when the Federal Housing Administration incorporated racist residential legislation into redlining, or when Chicago School economics ignores environmental externalities or network-scale Nash equilibria, in which choices maximizing individual benefits produce worse outcomes than coordinated choices do—disharmonies are inevitable: congestion, impoverishment, waste, and disease.

Socioeconomic reharmonization requires a comprehension of how codes handle inputs and outputs. Humanity’s mandate is thus to approximate nature’s advanced harmonies. Rose’s spiritually oriented conclusion points out how the Hebrew concept tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) has cognates across cultures. Humanity, he finds, has “evolved with an innate metacode” in which “altruism flows through every bit of a city’s interdependent social and cognitive ecologies, and is embedded in the morality of its systems.”

The audience that needs Rose’s analysis most drastically may be the least prepared for it. “Meh” in current parlance also names the shoulder-shrugging indifference of the incurious to anything beyond their truncated attention spans. Recent electoral results inspire little confidence that American society can decode principles observable in Uruk, Göbekli Tepe, and Chengzhou, and act on them purposefully. In his November 9 AIANY book talk, Rose emphasized how increasing immiseration in poorly built cities requires more comprehension of history and the sciences than partisan politics could muster: “I don’t believe either side of the election had the intellectual capital to deal with this.”

If Rose’s tempering theory omits anything vital, it may be a recognition of evil: Another synonym for the civic distempers flowing from greed and fear. Yet in accentuating the positive, the connectedness that has outlived such distempers, he reinforces our sense of harmony even in out-of-tune times.

The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life Jonathan F. P. Rose Harper Wave, 2016, $29.99

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The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Mid-century Personality Study

What is creativity? Who are the creative geniuses among us? How can the talents of the creative individual be identified and cultivated?

These questions were asked about architects six decades ago in one of the most comprehensive studies of creativity ever done. The work was carried out by a talented cadre of psychologists led by director Donald MacKinnon of the University of California’s Institute of Personality Assessment and Research with support from William Wurster’s Berkeley architecture faculty.

It was part of a five-year research program funded at a cost of 1.4 million in today’s dollars by the Carnegie Corporation to measure the personality characteristics of a range of creative types. The hope was that the “creative promise and dormant potential” of individuals could thus be identified and encouraged to blossom for the benefit of society as a whole.

Given the major investment of time and money involved, it is curious that relatively few outside the world of personality research were aware of the architect study and that no comprehensive account of the work has existed outside the files of IPAR until now.

Serendipitously, the forgotten records of the study were discovered languishing in IPAR’s archives several years ago by Bay Area author, architect and educator Pierluigi Serraino whose painstaking efforts bring them to light in an engaging and fascinating history, The Creative Architect.

Serraino’s attractively packaged volume has a welcoming layout that is easy to navigate. The text is illustrated with abundant examples of original study documents and findings. Practitioners for whom blueprints evoke nostalgia will encounter a color scheme that resonates positively, and those who appreciate a behind-the-scenes approach to storytelling will find his account especially pleasurable. Throughout he lends a historical perspective that provides a unifying context for the information presented.

Serraino traces the origin of the study to several factors: the growing interest in the post-WWII zeitgeist on the creative potential of the individual, the wartime experience of key IPAR staff in administering large batteries of tests under standard conditions for personnel evaluation, and MacKinnon’s fascination with the scope of the architect’s work. In 1962 he notes: “in what other profession could one better observe the multi-farious expressions of creativity?” To him the successful architect is an artist and a scientist, able to juggle and apply “the diverse skills of businessman, lawyer, artist, engineer, and advertising man, to say nothing of author-journalist, psychiatrist, educator and psychologist.”

These influences shaped the design of a multifaceted study in which 40 highly creative American architects from across the country assembled in Berkeley in 1958 and 1959 for three-day sessions to undergo a 20-hour battery of 22 tests and observations covering 7 broad areas.  Comparison data were collected by mail from two groups chosen to represent lesser levels of creativity, one with 43 former colleagues of the “highly creatives” and the other with 41 practitioners chosen at random.

Individuals seeking a sense of the culture of architecture of the 1950s will savor descriptions of the often politicized procedures that were followed to select subjects and to design and carry out the study, supplemented by unvarnished views of the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the icons of American architecture, gleaned from their interactions with the research team and each other. Particularly rich are portrayals Serraino has assembled from original records to reveal the formative influences, philosophies, anxieties and inspirations of Louis Kahn, Philip Johnson, Richard Neutral, Eero Saarinen and others.

Serraino transports the reader back in time to group testing sessions in which participants, fueled by well-iced martinis, debated pre-selected questions even as they were being taped and under the intense scrutiny of the full research staff. During discussion their unique personalities emerge: “each participant appears as a distinct character type—Saarinen (phlegmatic), Johnson (socialite), Lundy (lively), Ain (ideological) and Born (aristocratic)—pouring out their worldviews…then engaging in a passionate exchange.”

The independent and competitive natures of participants are revealed by the Mosaic Construction Test, an activity intended to mimic the creation of an artistic product. Participants used their full allocation of time to develop unique and idiosyncratic designs “that held their own,” seizing the opportunity to “make a declaration of their own talent.” Their resulting designs are faithfully reproduced and fascinating to examine.

It is hard to find serious fault with this engaging and sometimes dishy history (two participants were observed cheating on a creativity test), but readers lacking a background in psychological research will find the tangled chapter on study design tough sledding. And many will be disappointed when they realize that tantalizing references made to a twenty-five-year follow-up study of the same subjects are not supported by a meaningful presentation of findings.

Serraino strikes a proper note of caution by acknowledging the shortcomings of the IPAR study—selection bias, self-reporting of key data, choice of testing site, and, of course, the almost exclusive focus on personality traits. On the other hand, he accepts and builds perhaps too readily on generalizations that MacKinnon made about creativity. As a result, the composite portrait of the creative architect with which the book concludes strains to bring a finality to the IPAR work that the original researchers could not.

The IPAR study stands as a historical milestone in the ongoing study of how architects create. Although it cannot be said to have succeeded in its intent, in all fairness, psychology as a whole has made relatively little progress over the intervening sixty years in answering the basic questions posed earlier. What Serraino reveals in his book is that for now, in architecture, the back story is the real story.

And as we have all heard, it’s often the journey and not the destination that matters. Serraino shows what an interesting journey it was.

The Creative Architect: Inside the Great Midcentury Personality Study Pierluigi Serraino The Monacelli Press $45.00

Luigi Lucaccini teaches creativity, innovation, and applied design at the University of San Francisco’s School of Management