Urban Square: Cradle of Social Changes
By K.T. Anthony Chan – Mapos Designer
Cities are living organisms each harbors unique, dynamic spaces and networks. The development of urban public space is informed by its’ geology, typography, resources, history, culture, and perhaps above all: governance. The physical manifestation of the city and its’ complex nature is ever-evolving, adaptive, and transformative. This adaptivity can prove to be especially potent, as it gives a city the capability to influence the distribution of political and socio-economical power. Public spaces have potential to further the prosperity of inhabitants or to maintain the status quo for those in power.
In the February issue of the Atlantic Monthly, Matt Ford examined the power of assembly in public space and reviewed a correlation between built form and political purposes in authoritarians states. “Cairo’s layout also made Tahrir Square the perfect place to launch a revolution. Centrally located in Egypt’s largest city, Tahrir sits near the Egyptian parliament, Mubarak’s political party headquarters, the presidential palace, numerous foreign embassies, and hotels filled with international journalists to broadcast footage of the protests for audiences around the world. After Mubarak stepped down, large public squares in other Arab capitals became revolutionary battlegrounds as well.” In another word, the perfect stage was set for the modern era.
Over the past few months, the world has witnessed the violent clashes between anti-government protesters and riot police at Ukrainia’s Independence Square in Kiev. Ukranians want to assimilate with European ideals, rejecting Soviet or other eastern ideals. Taking the playbook of the Arab Spring, protesters set up encampment with makeshift fences and burning tires. The physical transformation can only be elucidated through before and after images — the gathering was a spectacle of last resort. The protracted demonstration eventually drove the corrupted leader out of power and to seek refuge in Russia. The future of Ukraine remains to be unsettlingly uncertain.
Historically, public places have acted as epicenters of political moments. Aided by social media, the organization of public gatherings have taken on an entirely new dimension. These spaces no longer need to be centrally located; they are sometimes networked throughout a region with multiple nodes — they are interconnected neighborhoods with agent of change. However efficient or inefficient, the Occupy Wall Street movement was an ultimate expression of democracy. The organization of the movement occurred though conversations and consensus. Since the early days of the movement, the weekly public meetings were held at Tompkins Square Park. The movement was horizontal in hierarchy which required public space for assembly. New York City lacks the revolution launch pad that comparable to Tahrir Square in Cairo or Independence Square in Kiev. The search of a home played a pivotal role in defining the Occupy Wall Street movement.
In New York City, municipally owned parks close after dusk. During the summer of 2011, while the Occupy movement was without a home, general assembly was held in a handful of public parks. The movement’s Tactical Committee learned that privately owned public space (POPS) in New York City are not subject to public park curfew. City Planning Commission in 1961 devised a scheme to provide more public park by way of public / private partnership. This zoning laws incentivized developers to provide publicly accessible space by allowing more build-able space. These zoning laws required owner of Zuccotti Park to keep the park open for “passive recreation” twenty-four hours a day. This loophole provided OWS a home and the rest is history.
Public space is the place for myriad of gatherings, political or otherwise. It is indispensable for democracy both as a symbolic gesture and as a viable arena for levée en masse. People design spaces, and spaces facilitate activities of the people. Designers, in turn, are well positioned to be pivotal agents of social change — a role that must have been unimaginable for the designers of Zuccotti Park.
The Whitney Biennial
By Xinyang Chen – Mapos Designer
The Whitney Biennial 2014 opened two weekends ago; this is the last biennial hosted in Marcel Breuer’s building. The museum is moving to its new location designed by Renzo Piano next year. Whitney is not going to be the same Whitney soon, but right now, as promised, we are having a larger and bolder than ever biennial.
The exhibition is put together by three curators with distinguished focus (one in film/video, a contemporary art curator, and a painter/educator) as well as 103 artists.
It is a true party, exciting and also overwhelming.
I started my visit to Whitney from its fourth floor, where Michelle Grabner is the curator in charge. Grabner says she wants her section “organized as a curriculum for other artists.” Maybe that is why the pieces she chose are so cohesive; they talk to each other. The play between the descriptions and the pieces worked really well – reading a description was often as enjoyable as viewing the piece itself! Contemporary art is sometimes so conceptual that I find I can’t just look at it and understand. I found the descriptions both entertaining and enjoyable as they were well written and gave me a better background to the piece.
Take, for example, Jennifer Bornstein’s video. The video is in complete silence and has perfect tone. The human nudity reminds me of a classic painting. It documents a couple of women as they move awkwardly and sometimes violently about the space. The description says that the body movement is abstracted from three different sources – soft porn poses, Balinese folk dances and contact improvisation technique. Learning this from the description, helped me to fully embrace what I saw.
Another unforgettable piece is Stephen Berens’ project. In this work the artist reprinted 40 views of Rome on top of one another sequentially, and made the prints into a new series. The original images are 40 shots of the same spot at the same angle, at different hours. I like the practice of recycling old work into new, and I think Berens’ process is inspiring. I was a little bothered to see after overlapping shots for multiple times, some sheets are dull, and some are just black. I think, conceptually, the series is fascinating but the product wasn’t always as exciting.
The most impressive piece on the 4th floor is Zoe Leonard’s room-size camera obscura. The artist blocked the only window in a huge darkened room, letting light come in through a palm-sized lens. Through this, the city outside is projected upside down on the ceiling and walls inside of the room. The idea of this piece is not particularly new, (Abelardo Morell used the same technique and shot a series of beautiful interiors ) but I very much enjoyed the interactive experience.
The biennial is on view through May 25 and I recommend you check it out!
Gentrification doesn’t need to be something that one group inflicts on another; often it’s the result of aspirations everybody shares. All over the city, a small army of the earnest toils away, patiently trying to sluice some of the elitist taint off neighborhoods as they grow richer. When you’re trying to make a poor neighborhood into a nicer place to live, the prospect of turning it into a racially and economically mixed area with thriving stores is not a threat but a fantasy. As the cost of basic city life keeps rising, it’s more important than ever to reclaim a form of urban improvement from its malignant offshoots. A nice neighborhood should be not a luxury but an urban right.
Just across the street, at 150 Bowery, is a non-descript one-story building.
It was built quickly by the landowner a couple of years ago to, no doubt, grab some rental income while s/he waits for the land value to blossom and give themselves time to figure out what to do with the property. It’s an enviable situation.
It currently houses a lighting showroom that perfectly complements the current row of other lighting, plumbing, and kitchen supply showrooms. And the neighborhood is changing.
What first drew us to this site, as we peer down from our 5th floor studio across the street, is the absence of any rooftop equipment. No dunnage. No air handlers. No satellite dishes. No roof hatches. No access. It’s a perfectly flat trapezoid, 5,000 square feet, 12 feet above the street.
As new tenants in the area, we asked ourselves, our neighbors, our visitors, “what would you like to see in the neighborhood?” The answers were varied, but they all revolved around the desire for open space and a place to get out of the office and kick-back with friends and colleagues. Being a rooftop, visions instinctually went to the classic New York roof deck: sun, plants, coffee and cocktails.
We added flexibility to the mix so groups of people could use (or rent) the rooftop for private functions, gatherings, meetings, and events. Music, great food, and outdoor presentations and cinema could easily be supported. When there are no official happenings, the rooftop becomes an elevated and outdoor living room for the hard-working people in the area (ahem, Mapos and the like). Wrapped in metal scrims and/or the classic storage container, our project becomes a visible-yet-removed retreat. Off the street and in the air.
We live in New York City. We love this place for many, many reasons and can’t help ruminate on what could make this place even better. Apparent to us architects are all the un-used or under-used slivers of real estate that beg to be used or re-used.
The area immediately around our office on the Bowery is currently undergoing a fairly rapid transformation. Once the neighborhood of well-heeled merchants, the Bowery fell to crime and misfortune at the end of the 19th century. Many attempts to reverse this trend have fallen short over the years and the infamous reputation of homelessness, crime, and poverty persists to this day (most of it based on reality). Within the last 10 years, however, New York City has experienced rapid development in almost every borough and neighborhood and the Bowery is no exception. “Luxury” condos (Carlos Zapata), art galleries (Norman Foster), museums (SANAA), and high-brow restaurants (Daniel Boulud) have sprouted along the Bowery turning the street into a dramatic checkerboard of homeless shelters sitting adjacent to $500/night boutique hotels. This new landscape is one of the reasons this city is so phenomenal: hipster, homeless, fashion model, college kid, entrepreneur, dot-com millionaire, and immigrant are all walking the sidewalk and speaking their language.
How can we support this diversity? We appreciate development and the beneficial change that comes with it. But should we paint over the grit, texture, and natural accretion of history? Should we displace one for the other? How can we develop these slivers of opportunity in a way that balances between the two? In a series of MAPOS PROJECTS FOR THE CITY, we will continually ask these questions. Starting in our backyard first, we will look at the intersection of Delancey Street with the Bowery as a dynamic environment with a very interesting future.
This map registers green and open space (in CYAN), our subjective edits of “Notable” Architecture (in RED), and the opportunity slivers (in YELLOW) that will become the sites for our hypothetical projects. One prominent hypothetical project already on the boards is the “Delancey Underground.” This is definitely NOT a Mapos PROJECT FOR THE CITY, but another interesting and entrepreneurial project being designed and promoted by colleagues of ours. The Bowery brings out the creative wish list in a lot of us.
Our first site is circled. Read further on Spamos for this Project and further investigations for MAPOS PROJECTS FOR THE CITY.
I visited the “foreclosed” exhibit at MoMA recently and came away a bit perplexed and disappointed, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. Then I read this great review of that show by Felix Salmon. In an earlier post, I lamented the lack of empathy for exactly why millions of people choose to live in the suburbs. Salmon sums it up perfectly:
“Any honest attempt to fix the suburbs has to start with facing up to why so many Americans live in the suburbs in the first place, and who those Americans are. Suburban families are bigger than urban families; they like their space; and they like living in places where they’re a good distance from their neighbors and a long way indeed from people of other social classes.”
For the record, I don’t think New York (or it’s taxpayers) should pay $3.2 billion for the new Moynihan station. In his recent piece, Michael Kimmelman outlines a handful of worthy alternatives to the horrible mess that is Penn Station. What his criticism points to – but doesn’t directly address – is the perverse suggestion that we could reverse our mistake of tearing down McKim, Mead & White’s original Penn Station by trying to renovate McKim, Mead & White’s adjacent Post Office into the new Penn Station. This bizarre logic is akin to buying an iTouch and calling it an iPhone. Just because they’re both made by Apple doesn’t make them perform the same way (even with renovations). And all train stations don’t have to look like Grand Central, either. Add the fact that only 5% of Penn Station’s current commuters would use the new station only solidifies the lunacy of this idea.
What this does point to is the growing need, maybe even the dawn of a new era, of infrastructural renovation, renewal, and adaptation. Our cities are of full of bridges, tunnels, stations, wharves, highways, and sewers that were built 100 to 50 years ago and need some attention. Beyond mere repair, there is a real opportunity to look at these physical developments as places of civic pride. What could the Gowanus Expressway look like if we capitalize on the volume of space it creates underneath it? What could the Red Hook Terminal become if we recognize its prime waterfront location? What could Penn Station signify if we don’t try to recreate the past but build for the future?
I wonder where my skepticism comes from. Being a fan of urban density and everything that comes with it – cultural diversity and abundance, housing density, energy efficient living, mass transit, walking and biking as healthy alternatives to car commuting, the list goes on – I sometimes feel that the anti-suburb conversation is swinging the pendulum too far in the other direction (and let’s be truthful, a lot of suburbs are beautiful desirable places to live).
To move the conversation in the right direction, we need a balanced look at history. What were the planners at the time thinking about when they put pen to paper and dreamed up their bucolic garden communities on the edge of cities? Some of them had to be intelligent people, after all, so let’s not throw the tomato plants out with the lawn shavings.
Suburban sprawl – and especially the far-flung exurbs – HAS proven itself to be an unsustainable development, as Christopher Leinberger writes in the NY Times, but is it completely broken as to say that it is in “collapse”? Or that the fringe suburbs have achieved an untimely “death.” When I was right out of college, I knew many Midwestern peers who wanted exactly what they had growing up and never considered the “lifestyle reasons and the convenience of not having to own cars.” And as I’ve often said, when I retire (if I ever do), I want to live in an elevator building in New York City for the exact reasons Leinberger mentions in his piece. But I’m also not that naive to believe that every “boomer wants to live in a walkable urban downtown.” In fact, I know many who like their suburban manse, thank you very much. To generate profound and lasting change in our development patterns, I think we should look at why a lot of people are making the lifestyle decisions they do. What made the suburbs so successful and so desired in the first place? And while we’re at it, let’s not forget that urbanism preceded suburbanism, and was itself was preceded by agrarianism. We’ve been here before, haven’t we?
In another piece in the Times, Louise Mozingo puts suburban office developments in her sites. At least she describes why the landscaped corporate parks were so popular. But again, to simply say that corporations should move back to the city or tie their suburban campuses to mass transit (which are great ideas) misses the point. I’m not about to write a treatise on human habit development over the centuries, but a realistic look at human behavior and WHY some of us – MOST of us – used to really like the suburbs would be a good idea.
And before I get too far with this line of thought, let me repeat myself: I like the city and want to live in one. Always. Humans are complex things, however, and we’re never going to agree on everything, especially when we swing the pendulum too far out of reach.
The elephant is in the room and we all know it. This excellent piece shines a light on the decaying and empty shopping centers that are littering the suburbs of the U.S. They’re huge. Their parking lots are huger. The “power centers” where they are built play big in people’s daily lives. They’re inefficient, destroy greenfields, and aren’t that beautiful to boot. Small towns have fell victim to their construction (as they win out over Main street) and often struggle for survival when they eventually die themselves.
What can we do about them? How can we leverage the energy (and money and materials) already spent on their development? What does their second life hold? Community centers? Schools? Housing? Mixed-use? Suburban agriculture?
At the same time, why were they built in the first place? While most are copy-cat developments with little thought to the long term, some are products of very smart people actually putting a lot of thought into their creation. What are their assets? (easy construction, ease of access, easy parking, great for mass retailing) What could greatly improve the relationship between people and planet (connections to mass transit, parking as landscape, connection to the outdoors, skylights, recycled materials, creative fixture design).
With over 100,000 shopping centers in the U.S. – and many of them dead or dying – these seem like good questions to ask.
I just stumbled upon another interesting article in the NYTimes by Allison Arieff. Writing over a month ago, she looks at the persistent yet optimistic theory that design can solve the “problems” in the workplace. One of my “problems” is I’m just reading this now. My busy work life, my much needed personal life, and my odd day-offs over the summer, have not left much room for catching up with current events and the popular press. I can decry the fact that I spend time staring at my iPhone on my days off, but the fact of the matter is that my iPhone allows me to take days off, because I can use it to answer emails remotely. This multi-tasking-life-work-integration-collaboration is sweeping the professional world, and I guess I’m part of it.
But is this a “problem”? As Arieff points out, and we all intuitively know, more and more of us are working in more and more unconventional fashion. Throw in the unstable economy, and you’ve got a generation of workers working in a non-work-like atmosphere. At home. On the road. In the car. On the sidewalk. Off of a tablet. In other words, not at a desk in an office.
So while designers and contract furniture makers try to re-design the cubicle and make the office a more creative atmosphere, the larger issue continues unabated and often ignored: we continue to work in erratic ways and erratic locations. We continue to live and work in more flexible ways, juggling life and family and work in one great creative act. Our lifetyle, not our office or our mobile tools, is the primary driver dictating this schizophrenic behavior. So the solution won’t be better desk or a smarter office, but a clear and honest understanding of how we want to be.
(Working in the “green” world, we have become keenly aware that the answer to climate change is not some new technology. Motion sensors, PV panels, heat-transfer systems, are all great at reducing green house gas emissions. But to truly get us on a path to energy intelligence we have to honestly look at how our behavior can affect energy use and change the way we live. It’s a nice day today. And we just got another obscene electricity bill in the mail. Today we turned off the ACs and opened the windows. Simple and effective.)
The related question, of course, is our varied lifestyle conducive to being productive? While each of us exhibits our individual creativity, very few jobs get accomplished in solitude. Work spaces need places for conversation, team work, and the freedom to collaborate and ideate. But does too much freedom lead to chaos? While a desk can be confining, I find it helps me focus and deliver. Personally, I could not do my job effectively if I were constantly on the run and dialing in from coffee shops. While I could use a better desk. What I really need is a better calendar.
It’s encouraging to hear that “productive conversations” between a farming initiative and Detroit bureaucrats are happening. Mapos sincerely hopes that this is genuine and not just wishful thinking. If there is something Detroit does not need is another hollow reason to get their hopes up.
My Detroiter brother sent this link that outlines these conversations as well as the pros and cons of building a substantial commercial farm within city limits. As with any urban “project,” the concerns are real and should not be discredited: an increase in truck traffic in residential areas or a conflict with existing agricultural businesses in Michigan that rightly need support for their own continued existence. What should not happen is to let a very good idea die because it is difficult to implement or simply because it is not business-as-usual. I do not think urban agriculture will cure Detroit’s ills. At least not alone. What is certain, however, is that business-as-usual will not.
“I think it’s better to generate some tax revenue from somebody,” says a local zoning attorney. Take a cue from New York, where Mayor Bloomberg readily tries new programs by couching them as prototypes and urban experiments so he can circumvent lengthy bureaucratic approval processes. If they don’t work, shutter the program and move on and chalk it up to a valiant effort that didn’t pan out. Something, anything, is better than nothing.
Mapos is all about better, smarter, more sustainable design strategies for our cities (and buildings, and homes, and parks….) What is happening in Europe is a fabulous example of more pedestrian friendly cities. As the author of this recent NYTimes article points out, businesses in car-restricted districts actually thrive with more pedestrian access, countering the long held argument by car-first advocates that businesses will suffer. All good stuff. We would be remiss, however, if we did not point out a strange oversight in the logic of the non-car set. they promote “people over cars” but seem to forget that people are driving those cars. Alternatives do exist. This is a model to celebrate. But let’s not dismiss a viable and sometimes necessary transportation alternative for many people.
Be sure to check out the first of 4 episodes on NBC’s Open House featuring the construction progress of the Montagnaro House. In this episode, Glenn Callahan and David Jackson of American Green Home Builders touch upon some green design strategies that everyone should consider when building a new home. Hats off to the greenest and most camera-ready GC team out there!
Be on the lookout for Mapos in a forthcoming episode dedicated to smart water management!
After one of the snowiest winters and rainiest springs on record, summer is finally here, and the hammers are flying in Ghent! The crew has raised the rafters and the space and form of the new house can at last be experienced in full scale reality. Whenever this milestone is achieved on a project, it is among the most exciting moments for an architect and client alike.
This week, as we finally ascended to the top floor of the Ghent House with the client, experiencing the intoxicating panorama of the Upper Hudson Valley from this crow’s nest, every decision, every risk, every fight for design that occurred during the process of design, was immediately, and joyfully, validated.
Colin joined a panel at YRG Sustainability on Green Building in Retail Environments last Thursday. The topic is of timely relevance as retail sits at the crossroads of construction – which is being heavily affected by new sustainable building technologies – and brand identity. How can retail brands best communicate their green initiatives to their customers? Should they? And why do they do it in the first place?
Of course there is no simple answer to these questions, but certain things are apparent. The culture at large is asking, and sometimes expecting, that their favorite brands turn the green corner. And that in competent hands (ahem, Mapos), being green can be synonymous with making beautiful, comfortable, inviting, and inspiring places where people want to BE. Starting any design project with the goal of promoting personal happiness tends to align all the following issues into sustainable a order.
The GUIDE has been sleeping on our server (and in our brains) for over three years: a visual and experiential narrative of what we like about New York City. Part derive (a la Debord), part analysis, part history, all obsession, the GUIDE covers the sites, buildings, parks, places, and things that catch our collective eyes and spark imagination. Why? Well, we don’t know for sure – it’s the intangible that makes this city what it is. We do know we want to explore them more and explain why they make this city so, well, awesome.
Last Monday Colin gave the first Mapos Tour to a group of NYU students (thanks to Prof. Lauren Yarmuth for the invite). On showcase was the Midtown portion of the GUIDE. Look for more exciting tours to come, and keep asking us about the soon-to-be-released digital (and hard copy) version of the GUIDE.
The Mississippi State architecture school asked Mapos to speak as the headliner of their NOMAS Symposium. The topic: emerging practices in architecture.
This gave us an opportunity to share our work of the (challenging) past three years through our passion for saying “YES.”
A good architectural education, like a good architect, is proficient in many things: design, technology, strategy, process, and most of all, the ability to communicate through various media. We draw. We make 3D models (virtual and physical). We also can write and talk. Create a narrative about the many things we do as architects. Design is increasingly being valued for its creative ability to approach and define complex issues – and to communicate it. We too often take for granted the extraordinary powers we have to create beauty and to reach people with new ideas that affect their lives in meaningful ways. It is humbling. It matters. Say YES to bridging and connecting and designing solutions in a world that desperately needs them.
This past Sunday, the NYTimes Magazine ran a riveting story on the Parisian artist JR.
His medium is immense photographs wallpapered on walls, roofs, sidewalks, trucks, swimming pools – anything large, really – in surprising locations around the world.
His subject matter is the faces of the millions of people overlooked and displaced, disrespected and forgotten. His recent project, called “Women Are Heroes,” literally plastered the eyes of women from impoverished communities on surfaces around the world. Some images were in the same neighborhoods where these women lived. Others were displayed in well-to-do districts in Western Europe. All of them stare quietly yet forcefully. Be sure to check out the slideshow.
The latest edition of Green Source Magazine just arrived in the post. Check out a detailed review of the Green Depot store in the Case Study section. As the leading publication of sustainable design and construction, Green Source is a great place to learn about what’s new in the world of progressive design and learn a bit about how Mapos works. If you can’t get your hands on the old fashion print version, check out the story online.
Be sure to check out the slide show, and the online video. Colin gives a riveting tour of the store, complete with his summer ‘stache.
My ever keen brother in Detroit recently alerted to me to a very interesting piece on his troubled and chagrined hometown. More a critique on the city’s media attention than on the city itself, VICE (and their broadband channel VBS.tv) takes aim at how this once-great-metropolis has fallen victim to shallow one-liners and easy-photo-essays on urban decline. I, for one, have pointed my camera at the adundant decay and posted the images for display, and can’t help but feel a bit sheepish about partaking in this “misery porn” myself (And yes – gasp – I even fetishized over the hulking Central Train Station. Tsk, tsk, says VICE).
While VICE showcases a fair bit of the urban decay themselves – fully half of their video piece features Johnny Knoxville illegally wandering through beautiful abandoned buildings marveling at their opulent past – the piece eloquently uncovers a nascent yet thriving creative class in Motor City. Artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs seem banded together in tough pioneerism, facing the cruel city with microphones, paint brushes and pulled pork. They commiserate in their under appreciated city and revel at their good fortune of living in Detroit at a time when they can poach entire city blocks for farming, art installations, and rave parties. Listening to these determined voices, you get the feeling that Detroit can rebound, one DIY project at a time.
The most poignant interview was with Larry Mongo, a long time entrepreneur who owns and operates Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy in Downtown Detroit. The recent Creative Class renaissance has brought his business back from the dead, he says, in an ever changing landscape of boom and bust. To paraphrase, he believes if the city founders could come back today, they would see young pioneers making their own mark on the city, just like they did 300 years earlier. We’re all moving and relocating and returning to “fill in the gaps,” left by the pioneers who came before us.
The point being, there ARE definitive pockets of community growing and collaborating and making something out of sweat and cheap real estate, just as they have across humanity for generations. When people get together and DO something – say YES – things happen. If this bond of purpose and determination is any sign, Detroit has a pulse. And it is growing in the empty gaps that have all too often defined this city.
We architects like to daydream… in fact that’s what got most of us here in the first place.
A dream becomes a vision, that vision slowly gestates, and through monumental efforts of a team of individuals, believing in and adding to this vision, not to mention commendable stamina, this vision forms into a reality. With the right team and the right client, this entire process can begin to take on a poetic rhythm.
The in-progress foundation pictured above is just such a project. A dream site with unobstructed views of the Catskill Mountains to the west, an incredible client seeking the latest in cutting edge sustainable practices with an open mind to design, and an energetic and knowledgeable general contractor dream team (American Green Home Builders, who provided this photo, a byproduct of their aforementioned energy).
We’ll keep you Mapostles updated on the progress of this new home as it magically forms over the next several months, and share with you our thoughts along the way!
Newsweek magazine recently commissioned six design firms to imagine the “city of the future.” Three firms each looked at New York and Los Angeles to envision how America’s two largest cities might develop in the coming decades.
The results echo the recent statistics that urbanism – namely densification of programming and built area – is a viable susatainable strategy for a more populated world. It’s rather predictable. More people live in urban areas than ever before, and this pattern will continue, as it has for millenia, especially in the developing world. We are increasingly living, working, playing, and commuting, within the same landscape and in closer proximity to each other. This is not new. What will be new, if we take the beautiful renderings as prophecy, is an urban landscape that is scrubbed clean of texture and history and the messy vitality that IS humanity. Especially a humanity that lives so close together for so long. Why does utopia look so banal and boring?
As New York is already the poster-child for density, the three New York teams had no real room to move, and no real new ideas. Proposing urbanism at the scale of the building is not new. Mixed-use has been around since the first farmer built his home above the stable. It isn’t even that new to think that infrastructure – highways, rail yards, water ways – is fertile ground for mixed-use. The proposed projects at Atlantic Yards, Hudson Yards, and Sunnyside Yards have been on the boards for over a decade. What might be new is an overly optimistic view that as long as two different things can happen at the same place, happy, sustainable, urbanism will flourish. We’re not advocates of single-use zoning by any means, but multi-tasking is more of a syndrome than a cure.
Out in Los Angeles, things are a bit better, perhaps because LA, unlike New York, is typically American in its sprawl, so can be an example for cities across the country. So what would LA do? Evidently be more like New York. Densify the landscape with infill construction and multiple uses. Fill backyards with new homes. Build atop the freeways. Develop parks along the rivers. What is novel here, however, is the appreciation for what is quintessentially LA. The strip malls and fast-food restaurants and parking lots are not plowed under for gleaming new visions of a happy future. The are renovated and incorporated and included. In-N-Out IS LA, and it is good.
The monolithic mainframe has proven too inflexible against the personal computer. The fragemented computing cloud has proven more scalable than the centralized data bank. Wiki-ness has tapped the collective brain trust of each of us. Evolving systems based on flexibility, adaptability, and scalability are successfully mimicking the qualities of human communities: the sum of the diverse parts is greater than the homogeneous whole. How can this trend in efficient technology distribution be applied to a greener planet? Can energy production become cloud-based? Can our dependence on fossil fuels be usurped by smart grids and multiple renewable sources of energy?
Portugal has been aggressively building an energy industry that promises to have half the country off of fossil fuels by 2025, putting them in the progressive European vanguard with Denmark and Iceland, and leap years ahead of the US and China. The principal reasons being something inherently non-American: they are a small country with strong central leadership, limited domestic fossil fuel supplies, and abundant renewable energy supplies (hydro, wind, solar). Yet, even with all this, the government faces intense opposition, and may be voted out of office. Can you imagine the perfect storm that would be required here in the US for this to happen? Congress working amicably? Neighboring states agreeing on shared interests? Ingrained, lobbyist-laden, industries allowing development in new directions? The immense size and geography of the country being knit together with new technologies? National Geographic recently reported on the patchwork of projects that may prove to stitch this country together and steer us in the same direction. There are many ideas and many directions. We’re too big to be Portugal, but their lesson is there for the taking.
Last March, I spent a few days in Aspen, CO (locale of the origin story of Mapos, BTW). The recession has hit hard there, perhaps harder than other places around the country. Worse than auto-industry-dependent Michigan? Deeper than real estate-speculative Florida/Arizona/California? Maybe not. But when an entire region is dependent on the superfluous income of the wealthy – building trophy homes, renting luxury condos, buying lift tickets and family ski packages – and that income dries up, the recession becomes visible, raw, and immediate. In Aspen, there was a general pall covering the happy and energetic personalities in the valley. The gilded walls of this exclusive private island are eroding to the painful reminder that there is a larger world out there. Surrender can be read on their faces.
In a similar valley further North in the Rockies, a group of recession-affected entrepreneurs sees opportunity in this challenge. Up in Bozeman, MT, designers and builders who most recently built the massive second homes for the rich and famous have focused their skills at building affordable and portable shelters for war-bombed, earthquake-ravaged, civil-war-stricken refugees. This shift from the luxury to the affordable, from the wealthy to the displaced, from the .01% of the population to the unbelievable 40% who can really use it, makes us think the recession may have lessons for all of us.
Recently, Mapos was honored and delighted to be invited to participate in Savannah College of Art & Design‘s nine day long design celebration, SCAD Style 2010, as part of their “Sustainability in Action” panel discussion, along with co-panelists, the artist/inventor Britta Riley and restaurateur/urban farmer Chris Parachini. Our gregarious moderator, Matthew Mascotte, assembled the panel to highlight 3 unique but related practitioners in ongoing sustainable projects. Video of the inspirational and informative discussions, which occurred in both the Atlanta and Savannah campuses, can be seen via this link (once it’s available). Until then, we’ll refrain from spoilers and just share some brief thoughts on SCAD, Savannah, Southern Hospitality, and Ghosts:
Mapos enthusiastically applauds SCAD’s campus, which sets the standard for creative reuse of existing urban conditions and architecture, not to mention integration into the urban community of Savannah. During our brief stay, we toured a textiles school in an old elementary school (miniature handrails still intact) and an architecture school within an old railroad structure, dined in not one but 2 former bank structures (one of which was al fresco in the old drive through lane), perused SCAD’s library in a former big box department store, and had cocktails in a former prison decorated by student work. Our standing room only panel discussion occurred in a repurposed synagogue– stained glass still intact. This was just a small sampling of SCAD’s beautifully executed reuse projects in the community.
The City of Savannah exemplifies the perfection of the Grid in city planning. It is both rational and humanist in its execution. Divided by a green square every third block in all four directions, each park space with its own unique character and history, the deadly repetition of the typical grid transforms into something more of a rhythmic melody, human in scale and wonderful to explore by foot. Ironically, these refreshing squares were originally designed for military functions.
One could be excused for likening Savannah to Rome. Like the lush Italian capital, the architecture, urban spaces, and foliage of this port city seem frozen in a former era of great private and civic wealth, where civilized leisure activities by men and women dressed in white was a much larger part of the city’s pulse. Those days are long gone but this cityscape remains like a palimpsest on modern Savannah. As luck would have it, this apparent preservation was the result of decades of economic stagnation during the second half of the last century—so much preserved out of apparent indifference before SCAD came to town 30 years ago. Imagining entire swaths of this fair city completely empty, and overrun by Spanish moss, it’s little wonder that Savannah has garnered a reputation as America’s most haunted city. Ghost stories proliferate in this environment!
When in Savannah, if you simply must eat pork prepared on a smokey, wood-fired grill, slathered in homemade bbq sauce, then drive (very fast) to Rib Hut BBQ in West Savannah, known by the locals as Mama’s (who still holds court in the open kitchen). This is where Matthew took us when we demanded authentic local BBQ. What we got was a transcendental experience which can only be described as a saucy “baptism by barbeque.”
It is said that Savannah is the “Hostess City” of the South, and we have never experienced such remarkably sincere hospitality. Everywhere we went, our new friends were eagerly pointing out the historic sites and curiosities with unaffected delight, both on and off the beaten path. A special thank you to Matthew Mascotte (our Moderator), Scott Singeisen (Chair of the Architecture Dept.), and Ashley Woodson (SCAD Event Master and new friend) for all of the time they spent with us.
Mapos is now conspiring for our next visit to this wonderful place—and Savannah truly is one of those rare things these days: a PLACE. Viva SCAD and viva Savannah, the Mostest City of the South!
It’s always interesting to revisit places you think you know so well and be surprised. Since leaving Columbus, Ohio, 22 years ago, most of my surprises have involved getting lost in the expanding collection of freeway off-ramps and shopping complexes. Every time I returned home it seemed a new sub-division was sprouting up complete with it’s own golf course, high school and local mega-plex. 20 screens per family must be a new record for central Ohio. Well, a couple of weeks ago I was walking through a marshy wilderness only a couple miles from where I grew up. This wilderness, the newly opened Audubon Center, was recently a brownfield site, and before that a warehouse district tucked into a curve of the Scioto River. (The city’s largest impound lot still sits next door, though that is slated for relocation.) Now it is 600 acres of winding trails, playgrounds, and rock climbing walls scattered through native trees, grasses, and the meandering Scioto. Most impressive are the 2 bald eagle nests, countless other bird species, and the LEED Gold visitor center complete with energetic birders who love to share their knowledge.
It’s surprising I had to be reminded, but Columbus sits at the confluence of two rivers. Two rivers that had long been covered with freeways and train tracks by the time I came around. Now the 600 acres is planned to be stitched into 1300, creating an emerald necklace of park lands, bike paths and hiking trails. Here on the East coast I’ve gotten accustomed to the regeneration of our waterfronts, from Baltimore to Boston. It’s surprising and downright exciting, to see a Midwestern hometown do the same. The river is back. The birds are following. And us humans seem to like it.
Over at the Morgan Library the work of Palladio is on display. The curators exhibit the master’s work alongside more contemporary buildings based on his legacy. While recent architectural scholarship shows there were many errors in Palladio’s own analysis of ancient Roman architecture (perhaps his wood-and-laser measuring stick was off?), it does not diminish the extent that his drawings and built works influenced Western architecture, from Jefferson to Schinkel to Gilbert. I wonder where the modern references are? Surely Palladio’s fantacism for order, proportion, and scale still echo in a world without obvious Ionic capitals and articulated pediments? It would be interesting, and infinitely more relevant, to follow this thesis into the 21st century.
Wandering out of the upstairs galleries, I stumbled upon one of the most riveting exhibits I’ve seen in awhile. No offense to the draftsmanship of Palladio, but the beauty of the “The Hours of Catherine of Cleves” manuscript stopped me in my tracks. Despite my rudimentary knowledge of the biblical stories at hand (and a complete lack of Dutch), the incredibly rich miniatures illuminated the trials, triumphs, and tragedies in a clear narrative. It is visual story-telling at it’s finest, written in the mid-16th century no less. The legacy of this manuscript is self-evident at every turn: typography, comic novels, portraiture, story-boarding, even immersive motion graphics. Anything telling a story in multi-media, really. The amount of detail in such small dimensions is astounding. The brilliance of color is arresting. The combination of story, illustration, painting, text, history, and ultimately a voice for an entire culture, sets a very high bar for content communication.
In a bizarre turn of events, the LEED Platinum award was not issued to the Mapos designed Green Depot Flagship, but rather directly to Mapos Principal Colin Brice. This award was quickly upstaged by the announcement that Mapos principal Caleb Mulvena had won the coveted JUG of Tabasco for his tremendous and continuous consumption of pepper sauce over the years. Congratulations Caleb!
Just in time for Earth Day, the Mapos designed Green Depot Flagship hosted an awards ceremony for the presentation of its LEED Platinum Award.
VIPs at the presentation included:
Russll Unger, Executive director of Urban Green, the New York City chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council
Nydia Velázquez, U.S. Congresswoman
Carolyn Maloney, U.S. Congresswoman
Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Borough President
Rohit Aggarwalla of the Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability
In this age of partisan politics, it is oh-so-human to simplify debates into tidy dualities of Us vs. Them or Right vs. Wrong. Mapos is certainly human – just check our 2009 tax returns – but we remain stubbornly optimistic that the human mind is robust enough to embrace the complexity of the times. I am constantly reminded of the scientists who work at the California Academy of Sciences. I had the opportunity to collaborate with them, years ago, in the development of their renovated institution in San Francisco. They were immersed in their fields of study, excited about the future, invested in the process, and cynical of the real-world need for the finality of deadlines. They do not work in the world of absolutes and final solutions. Theirs is a world of theory and continued exploration. It is not a simple world. It is a world of nuance and beauty and multiple opportunities.
A recent article in the Times outlined the development of waste-to-energy power plants in Northern Europe (no surprise there – Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands have become the broken record of sustainable heroes) and the continued reluctance in the US to consider a future with logical feedback loops (dare I say cradle-to-cradle) of generation and consumption. We use the attached diagram in presentations to explain just that: let’s consider our own waste as a resource instead of relying on rapidly-depleting natural resources that must be dug out of the ground at great cost. While the Danes are comfortable living next to – and downright proud – of their waste-to-energy plants, the naysayers here in the States claim NIMBYism and the bizarre excuse of “negative public perception,” as reasons for our stagnation. Where, oh where, are leaders who see opportunity in research? When will we stop following the hysteria of the lowest common denominator that invariably thrives on a fear of change? What’s even more baffling is that the self-defined environmentalists are against waste-to-energy plants as well. They believe that the plants will spurn a growth in waste production – the plants have to be continuously fed – and thus de-incentivize recycling. Really? Does it really have to be a Waste vs. Recycling simplification? Is it not possible, in this country of 300 million people that generates 160 million tons of trash a year, that we can’t recycle AND burn trash for energy? In one town in Denmark, 61 percent of the waste is recycled and 34 percent is incinerated at waste-to-energy plants. If they can wrap their heads around the doing BOTH, couldn’t we?
Earlier this week I attended a surprisingly thought provoking symposium at the New School entitled, “Cities Respond to Climate Change: Locating Leadership in an Uncertain World.” It was surprising because most often, these academic get-togethers are nothing more than like-minded intellects talking to each other. While there was plenty of mutual head-nodding, there was room for dissent. Dissent is good. Dissent is healthy. Dissent is democratic. Dissent, however, neatly creates a duality. David Kreutzer of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation argued that cities need to devote their dwindling resources on more pressing needs (crime, housing, e.g.) than sustainable growth initiatives. Others argued that sustainability is the pressing issue that affects everything else. The Us vs. Them rhetoric was tempered somewhat when Francis Murray, the CEO of NYSERDA, suggested that cities could deal with their imminent crises AND think about the future at the same time. Not a bad idea.
Unfortunately, this foray into nuance did not last long. The Mayor of Vancouver – surprise, surprise – discussed how his city has had a plan in place for the past 50 years to ensure sustainable food production for the entire population of British Columbia. If I had heard this from the mayor of Detroit, I’d be impressed. It loses a lot of it’s magic, however, coming from the uber-greenies of the pacific Northwest. (They’re our version of Denmark!) His American counterparts could only gape in wonder at the progressive practices that, once again, put us in our place South of the border. Our follow-the masses mentality is not nimble enough to see that far in the future. All that could be mustered was the familiar refrain that any advancement must be a partnership between government, business, and academia. Will this partnership succumb to partisanship? Based on recent history, most likely. Or maybe the denominator will climb from low to Vancouver.
Mapos joined other distinguished jurors this year to select the winners of the 2010 IIDA Honor Awards – Northern California Chapter. The most impressive entries became quickly apparent, and were solidified by the consensus of our peers. The projects that really stood out prompted us to utter these comments:
The Royal Hawaiian Hotel (by Philpotts & Associates) in Waikiki
“You had us at wall treatments and side tables! It’s extremely difficult to pull of a modern interpretation of classic design. Instead of an inauthentic theme or shallow pastiche, this project exhibits a keen respect for the historical setting while acknowleding it’s the 21st century. The rich patterns and deep colors complement the clean white “background” with a wink of freshness. The wall pieces, carpets and especially the inventively modern classic furniture add more than expected levels of high design.”
Wexler’s Restaurant (by Aidlin Darling Design) in San Francisco
“A real gem of a project that balances many design challenges with ease. Placed against the simple white volume of the existing building – a tasteful take on preservation – the ceiling installation is clear, fun, and a downright beautiful expression of the brand identity. The simple details in the bar and back bar showcase the materials. The furniture and especially the funky lighting fixtures complement the space perfectly. Not too heavy, not too light. A nice study in restraint.”
In the most recent issue of the Architect’s Newspaper (quickly becoming the most relevant mag for the New York design set), Jeff Byles gives an excellent overview of an underappreciated topic: the suburbs.
Since WWII, we have been moving out from the city and in from the country to create an ever expanding landscape of single family homes, cul-de-sacs, manicured lawns, and our own sense of personal kingdoms. The result? Architectural homogeneity at the cost of cultural alienation. More vehicle drive time. Ballooning house sizes. Cable TV packages to keep us entertained. Mapos respects the American ideal of home ownership, but at what cost? To compound the issue, architecture and design schools are still training us in the classical “urban” design model, ignoring the fact that more Americans today are living in suburbs than in rural and urban areas. Byles points to a handful of design projects in the pioneering suburbs of Long Island that shine a light on the need to take suburban development as a serious and necessary pursuit. But using the Big Idea ethic of mid-century urban planning in low density suburbia only exacerbates the problem. Master planning 17 acre brownfield sites is a a good step, but as currently imagined, the Hedgehog is still ruling the roost. These projects are almost all large scale, singular, insular, urban islands within the rising sea of sprawl.
Densification will help create walkable communities, for sure, but to effectively address this very significant planning typology, we need to look at the scale of the metropolitan region. Transportation links. Neighborhood connections. County-wide zoning regulations. Even cross-state commuting patterns. Let’s start by creating infill within the existing slivers throughout suburbia and constantly seek out opportunities to make connections through the inherent gaps in our picket fences.
When Mapos was asked by Green Depot to come up with an interactive way to showcase emerging lighting technologies that is both educational and fun, our answer was the (now famous) interactive Light Booth.
Within this tidy little space (recalling the once ubiquitous photo booth), one can test and compare several different lighting technologies against your own selected palette of materials and colors. Not only is it, ahem, enlightening, but there are no more surprises when you get home and screw in that new warm white CFL you just purchased at Green Depot, because you’ve already given it a test drive in their Light Booth.
Needless to say, we were thrilled to learn that NY Magazine recently included the Light Booth in it’s “Best of NY 2010″ issue under the category Best New Idea.
Mapos can’t help but feel like proud parents to this wittle fella. To achieve this accolade at only 1 year old… Well, who knows what this Light Booth will achieve someday? Time Magazine’s Fixture of the Year? A MacArthur Grant?
Okay, enough fawning. Who wants some cake?
And maybe the World?! Thanks to:
Kintex LLC, LEED consultant (who really stuck with it!)
Johnson Lighting, lighting consultant
Shine Engineering, mechanical engineer
IDEA, structural engineer
NYCT Development, general contractor
MG Concepts, fixture fabricator
and especially the entire team at Green Depot.
Today, 800 billion hectares of land (the size of Brazil) is needed for the agricultural uses that feed us – both for human consumption and for animal feed. In the next 50 years, the world population is expected to increase by 50%. Do we have another Brazil lying around?
And what’s more, should we continue to produce the food that contributes to our collective poor health (obesity, diabetes, etc.) and takes increasing amounts of fuel to truck it from the fields to the urban centers?
Could we grow healthy produce closer to our population centers? Could we add hectares within our cities? What kinds of issues could vertical urban farming address? What questions arise?
This past summer, at the Pioneers of Change Arts Festival on Governors Island, a Dutch consortium led by uber-crunk MVRDV showed some startling realities. Check them out on YouTube here:
Though we’ve been concepting and implementing “Pop-Ups” for years, very few brands have recognized the economy, flexibility, and overall immersive effectiveness this business model can bring. Until recently. Like a tipping point (or perfect storm) more and more brands are cutting back on capital projects at the same time that Pop-Ups are being recognized for their better investment, per media hit, of advertising dollars. New York is awash with temporary outlets this holiday season.
And in a reversal of the traditional medium – art as the antennae of society – the Hirshhorn Museum of Modern Art is learning from the world of retail. The recent history of museum architecture has been awash in capital campaigns, bond issues, starchitects, and the promise of economic revival from Bilboa to Boston. But with the economy slagging and everyone trimming their budgets, everyone’s looking for a smarter alternative. The Smithsonian just announced an addition to their iconic Bunshaft-designed doughnut on the Mall in Washington. Designed By Diller Scofidio & Renfro (Ok – the starchitects are still here), the strikingly cheap addition ($5M) is flexible, temporary, and planned, of course, to be effective. the addition will literally inflate into the existing outdoor spaces to accommodate an entirely new program of contemporary art long ignored in stingy DC: film, performance and new media. And the punchline? Because it is a “temporary” construction, application and approval by the notoriously conservative DC review boards is not required. And like a true Pop-Up, if it doesn’t work, they can pack it up and chalk it up to a bold cultural experiment.
Maybe we’ll go back to the days when we confidently laid foundations and built things to last. For now, an architecture of “timelessness” takes on a whole new meaning.
It’s been surmised that periods of recession yield intense new directions and productivity in the art world. It makes sense to us – the more time on one’s hands, the more the mind, and then the hands, wander and conjure and make. The newness itself is invigorating. You feel youthful and refreshed.
And then you re-meet an old friend. It’s been awhile. You have fond memories. You remember what drew you together in the first place. Depth and character and soul. Take a minute to visit David Zwirner and Gagosian. Really. Go now.
PFSK just posted the GOOD Magazine event, featuring MAPOs and our recent talk on the development of Sunset Park. Check it out!
And speaking about community/urban/cultural development, my brother took me by the Heidelberg Project in Detroit last week. While we need to think holistically about all the issues facing our cities today, it is important to not be overwhelmed by the task at hand (especially in Detroit).
Every undertaking – from planting a garden to laying miles of light-rail – starts with a single step. In 1986 Tyree Guyton began inhabiting, upkeeping, and transforming one small corner of his city. The result is an ongoing art installation that moves from one abandoned lot or house to the next. Of course Detroit is not saved. But on one block in one dilapidated city, you can tell that someone cares.
A great piece on WNYC this morning highlights a small intiative with big ambitions, and more importantly, a big audience. While it’s still in it’s infancy, we are encouraged by the Obama’s Office of Urban Affairs. It’s mission? Simply to connect, re-connect, and fertilize ideas across the many siloed bureaucracies in our federal government.
It seems logical in theory, though it has been almost invisible in practice. When we discuss the economy, or job creation, or urban planning, or education, or transportation, or public health, we are all talking on overlapping planes of development. No one issue exists in a vacuum. Cities and suburbs are, in fact, cohesive metropolitan areas that work and grow together. Nutrition affects health and relies on farming and transportation which influences transit and housing. Unwieldy? Perhaps. Compartmentalized? Hopefully not much longer.
Aldolfo Carron, the director of the Office of Urban Affairs, is asking federal agencies to consider “place” when drafting their 2011 budgets. And they’re listening.
Mapos spoke last night at an event sponsored by GOOD magazine and Nau sportswear. How do we develop New York’s waterfront in a way that:
maintains industrial jobs, supports local communities, includes more affordable housing and creates open space at the waterfront all while planning for the rising sea levels and influx of storm surges?
Build a wall? Float on the water? Raise above the rising waters? Maybe we should just become more accustomed with living with the water. Maybe we should just do nothing. Put on some big rubber boots people.
I just stumbled on a great blog post at FastCompany.com. It’s long been known to Mapos (and other aficionados alike) that there is a lot going on in Ohio, architecturally speaking.
Down on the Ohio River, Cincinnati may lead the pack with Zaha Hadid’s Contemporary Art Museum. The University of Cincinnati is single-handedly transforming into a Who’s Who of American architecture (Gehry, Eisenman, Morphosis, Gwathmey Seigel, etc.)
Up North, Cleveland made headlines with I.M. Pei’s rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Frank Gehry again at Case Western, and now Vinoly at the Museum of Art.
Toledo (SANAA, Gehry), Wooster (LTL), Bowling Green (Snohetta) and Akron (Coop Himmelb(l)au, Polshek) even got in on the action.
But what about the capital? This Columbian credits Eisenmann’s Wexner Center as instrumental in his own early impressions on architecture. His convention center is worth a look and don’t miss Scogin Elam’s architecture school at The Ohio State University.
Ohio, it turns out, is not Iowa.
On October 24th, Mapos wrapped up a months long project with joy, sweat, and world record times. Well, at least joy and sweat!
A large athletic company based in Oregon (the name escapes me), hired Mapos to develop programming, event management, recruitment strategies, graphic design, and exhibit design for a one-day running event dubbed “the Human Race”. Using GPS and online technologies, this 10k race was run on every corner of the world by over 100,000 people. To highlight the day, a handful of hub cities hosted planned group races. Here in New York, the flagship venue for the race (and arguably the entire human race!), over 5000 people joined up early Saturday morning for an organized race in Prospect Park.
As a lead up to the race Mapos designed a series of kiosks scattered around popular running routes around the city. These served as recruitment stations that advertised the race and encouraged online registration. They incorporated Mapos-designed graphics and scavenger-hunt-like give-aways. A couple of the kiosks were actually Smart Cars (covered in Mapos graphics), roving the city on set itineraries. If runners visited every kiosks – and tracked down the Smart Cars via Twitter – they could enter a grand prize sweepstakes.
For Race Day, Mapos designed a fun and inspiring “village” in the middle of Prospect Park. After the race, runners and VIPs could relax in a global lounge, get a massage, food and drink, learn about the newest running gear, get consults from running pros, and rock out to the musical duo Matt + Kim (check ‘em out, really. Mapos is now their number one fan). The highlight was a 20 foot long custom-designed Community Table where runners could check their times, download their favorite running tunes, upload pictures and learn more about Ni.. er… the aforementioned athletic company from Oregon.
Event design. Pop-up construction. Graphic Design. Project Management. Brand Centric Experience. Free massages. 10k record times!
Everyone knows that Scandinavians lead the field in their commitment, investment, and application of green technologies. This is partly due to the abundance of non-fossil fuel resources. Norway is 96% powered by hydro-electricity due it’s plentiful waterfalls, for example. Denmark – surrounded on three sides by the gusty North Sea – has more windmills per capita, by far, than any other country.
By this logic however, Canada and Argentina would be tapping tidal surges and all of Australia would be fueled with solar power. On the contrary, despite the lack of winter sunlight and over-all sunny days, Northern Europe leads the world in the engineering and application of solar technologies (Germany is leading the way on this one, with Denmark and Sweden close behind).
Why is this? The citizens on the Danish island of Samso may be an example. Some 10 years ago, this small island of farmers banded together to see if they could be modern world’s first self-sufficient community. And they just announced they are. The incentives to live off the grid are well known: cheaper energy (in the long run), less (or no) pollution, and now in this down economy, an opportunity for new high-tech jobs. For a relatively poor but hard working community, these reasons are self-evident. What’s not explicit, but equally important, is the need for an isolated community to have a shared a common purpose that can form their identity and provide goals for the future. On a larger scale, these Northern countries have the highest taxes in the world, living a socialist ethic that pulls everyone together for the common good (and causes friction with their influx of immigrants – but that’s another story). Whatever your politcal leanings, however, on a smaller scale, this commitment to collaboration and self-reliance can green this planet one island at time.
Like any notable movement, the Great Restart of 2008-09 has given us many trends: large and small; serious and frivoulous; dull and riveting; depressing and, well, funny. Sure we have been affected in ways that tested our very existence, but one lesson learned around the halls at Mapos is to keep an optimistic perspective of the forces around us. If we didn’t see the laughable absurdity in the machinations on Wall Street, or the many smaller (and exponentially less serious) trends that pop up like internet celebrities after a heavy rain, we would have lost our marbles long ago. Humor helps. Pass it on.
Maybe it’s the self-fulfilling social world of New York City that we live in that has given us so many memorable gems. Hey, it’s the worst downturn in 70 years, so let’s celebrate the frugal recessionistas, enjoy our staycations, recycle, reuse, and repair. It’s good for the wallet, great for the planet, and can earn you valuable social capital on Facebook and even, dare I say, in real-life. In his column this past Sunday, Rob Walker jumped on the band wagon and showcased an entrepeneurial designer who champions reuse and helps others realize their hidden potential in recycling. Umbrellas into skirts. Boxes into wallets. Film canisters into room dividers. On Governor’s Island last weekend, the Dutch art group Platform21 produced a performative version of their “Repair Manifesto.” Workshops and installations included the visitor in creative acts of reuse and repair via points like, “make your products live longer!” and, “repaired things are unique.”
Don’t get me wrong, we’re big proponents of reuse, and more, not tapping new resources when alternatives exist. The examples in the Times and out on Governor’s Island are smart, efficient, and beautiful. With thought and care, lemons can be made into lemonade and even a lemon tart. But admit it. It is a funny turn of events when recycling your shirt into curtains and mending your own socks becomes trend-worthy.
There’s an installation at MoMA by the artist Song Dong. He literally unpacked his mother’s house in rural China and laid it on the floor of the museum. His mother saw value in everything. Her livlihood depended on it. Her hardscrabble life was pieced together with objects of necessity now organized into high art. I’m sure she never heard of Martha ond Oprah and the popular rise of knitting in the US. You can pay $20 and visit.
I was having a nice conversation with a journalist a couple of months ago. She promised it was “off the record.” Looks like the big news slipped out anyway. Check out the article here.
Just when you think you know the sordid tale that is “Development in New York,” a new chapter is published leaving the readers agog.
Will the Atlantic Yards follow the age-old tradition we’ve come accustomed to in this city? (Grand plans. Public outcry. Well-intentioned Grander Plans. Budget restraints. Media overload. Stakeholder input. Design by Committee. Value Engineering. Forgettable Civic Construction. Mini-mall.) Mapos certainly hopes not, but it’s off to a familiar start. Ratner hired Gehry. The public was up in arms (and still is). Budget realities came crashing down. Gehry re-designed and downsized and disappeared. Ellerbe Becket plunked a functional-and-cheap-box in its place. More outcry. And now iteration #73 is on the boards. All of Brooklyn and New York should hope, and expect, for the saga to end here and all of us can ride into the sunset.
It was announced yesterday that SHoP has partnered with Ellerbe Becket to give their banal box a fancy dress. Of course, we all know that good design can be a stooge for rampant development, and it should be! Design matters and it can also show the citizens in this fair city how buildings can make a difference. Integrated outdoor public space. Inventive use of materials. Contextual links to the historic rail yards. Sustainable measures to reduce energy use. And a postcard perfect image for Brooklyn branding to boot. SHoP has quickly become New York’s coolest firm with the coolest projects with the know-how to get things built. Let’s get shovels in the ground so the Nimbys at “Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn” learn that “develop” and “destroy” are not antonyms.
Somewhere in the concept of Reuse is a win-win-two-bird-profit-making-social-impact solution. Here at Mapos we’ve always tried to integrate existing elements, equipment, materials, anything, into our designs. It adds unique context, character, and comes at a reasonable price: free.
There are myriad obstacles, of course. From extracting nails from old-growth timbers to refurbishing 25-year old boilers to meet current ASHRAE standards, reusing existing materials and equipment can also mean losing time and money on labor. The small but growing industry of Housing Deconstruction aims to dismantle empty and foreclosed homes (mostly in the rapidly shrinking cities of the Midwest) and re-sell and reuse as much of the material as possible. It seems like a good idea until you realize it takes 40 times the man-hours to dismantle a house as it does knock it down with a bulldozer. And with tipping fees at such a bargain, the economics don’t add up. That is why the most inspiring and inventive reuse mentors out there occur ont the fringes of the design and construction trades persistently plucking at the equation with a conviction for success.
Sambo Mockbee and D.K Ruth saw promise in the will of students to turn carpet tiles and windshields into homes and chapels. The rural poor of Alabama were thankful and the middle-class students worked for free. Dan Phillips scavenges through the dumpsters of East Texas and turns trash into treasure for low-income residents. Is it perfect system? Not by any means. These gems are photographed and championed, but are also often neglected and vandalized. The bulldozers keep on grinding and the landfills keep on growing. They sometimes go into foreclosure and get snapped up by eager middle-class aesthetes. But Dan will keep on building, reusing materials and putting people into shelter. There’s a profit making equation in there somewhere.
Some years ago I was at friend’s party in Los Angeles. I was living there at the time and becoming immersed – and enthralled – with the “city” and mindset in Southern California. Like any place I spend a particular amount of I time, I inevitbaly try to discern what is unique about a place. What could only happen here that could not happen anywhere else? Call it a quest for identity, and taste for the zeitgeist, or simply an innate desire to not feel like an outsider, I wanted to know what it was about LA that made it tick. And despite my New York centric view of the world, I wanted to know why I liked it so much.
There were the obvious reasons, to be sure. The weather. The ocean. The beaches. The mountains. The desert. The laid-back “California lifestyle.” There’s also the fact that LA could be considered a one-industry town. Like politics to Washington, Autos to Detroit, and insurance to Hartford (snooze), Los Angeles is about film-making, and this singular industry just happens to be a creative act that generates huge sums of money which then supports other creative industries, from the arts, to music, to architecture. At last count there are 7 major architecure schools in the LA area (and countless more design academies) - more than found here in New York – graduating young and energetic creative types who throw themselves at their craft with progressive vigor and experimentation. And the climate helps, too. It’s easier to push the boundaries of architecture if you don’t have to worry that much about rain and snow and insulation. All of this creative output definitely makes Los Angeles a capital of creative output in this country. Now don’t get me wrong. New York, and Mapos with it, are not going anywhere. There’s just something about LA that I was trying to put my finger on.
In a recent article in the Times, Nicolai Ouroussoff pays tribute to Charles Gwathmey and the fading importance of the “New York Five,” who are now the elder and passing figures of New York’s prominence in Art and Design. Somewhere along the way, Gehry and Kappe and Mayne and Rotondi and Ruscha and Irwin and Turrell and Moss and Eames and Koning grew into the most influential and exuberant artists and designers in the US. What happened to the promise of New York?
At my friend’s party, a fellow guest quickly – and without any prompting – suggested why LA was the epicenter of a movement, and the reason for my crush. He simply said , “it’s the Wild West.” His theory was we were living at the Western edge of the Western hemisphere and we had run out of places to move on to. This is where civilization came to some sort of wall and doubles back on itself, building on the collective captive energy pushed up against the end of the world. Anything is possible in LA. The sun keeps moving West.
If we had a dollar for every time we said to ourselves, “what is going to become of Detroit?” we’d be rich men. Well, our accountant may say otherwise, but that doesn’t stop us from pondering the ins, outs, ups, downs, and what-ifs for our favorite urban punching bag.
On a recent trip, I had taken my family on a bit of an urban scavenger hunt, travelling from abandoned building to empty lot to derelict factory. The result? An idea we call DATA DETROIT.
Detroit once was the global capital of the automobile industry. It was the hub of several transportation networks that both imported raw materials and labor to its factories and exported automobiles to the world.
Detroit is arguably still at the center of this network, though it is rapidly losing its industry and its work force leaving hundreds, if not thousands, of abandoned buildings and square miles of empty land.
Several cities in the North East US (the Rust Belt) and around the country are experiencing similar shifts in population and infrastructure.
Using its existing under-utilized infrastructure, Detroit could become the regional (and then global) capital of a new industry: the reclaiming, recycling, and re-purposing of automobiles, trains, ships, technologies and housing. The networks that once brought and sent materials and automobiles can now bring in used and abandoned consumer goods, strip them down to their base elements, and ship them out to interested buyers. Detroit’s excess building stock would serve as warehouses for these various goods.
All of the commercial activity would likely happen online. Buyers could surf the multiple websites of the multiple recyclers looking for their desired goods. This would require server space. Millions of gigabytes of server space. A select number of abandoned buildings would become server farms – data centers – that would store the billions of photos, specs, and information on the world’s recycled materials. The new center of Detroit would be a symbol of its place in the new world economy.
Full of servers, it would be a beacon for Detroit and the first of many new data centers around the city. It would become the center a new digital network, linking Detroit to the world.
Earlier this year we were asked to concept a new restaurant and lounge in Bangalore. Light fare is offered during the day. VIP treatment is promised after dark. Valet parking is a must.
While these images may stay firmly planted on our server, it’s still fun to imagine having a cold cocktail on warm summer evening, surrounded by the hippest that the Silicon Valley of India has to offer.
Here at Mapos we like a nice cool dip like the next start-up design company. (Laps at the Y are part of our daily routine. Well, at least for one of us). Can we get an invite to the Dumpster-Pool on the Gowanus Canal? We’d be remiss if we didn’t comment on this inventive and industrious project by Macro-Sea for a couple of reasons. One: We like to swim (see opening line). Two: We like re-using things. Especially finding new lives for “discarded” cheap and industrial things. Three: I live in this neighborhood and am fairly obsessed with our quaint little waterfront called the Gowanus Canal. Four: Yes, we’re pretty jealous of these guys. Great idea, and even better, they got it done.
Here at Mapos, we have a self-serving saying: Design Matters. Since we are immersed in this culture everyday, it certainly feels like design can be more than a tool to produce tangible objects and buildings. It can be a communication device to creatively approach and define complex issues – in multiple media, dimensions, and scales – to affect positive change in every aspect of daily life. Ok, ok, this is a little design obsessed. Or is it?
I read with delight Allison Arieff’s latest musings about the power that design can have. She goes as far to say that the absence of design can leave to confusion, bewilderment and at its worst, down right calamity. Put to good use, design can make meaning out of the mundane, present complex issues clearly and harmonize dissonance. Think of those mortgage applications. Or prescription medicine directions. Or zoning guidelines. Since Vitruvius, we’ve been trying to formalize our ambitions for firmness, commodity, and hopefully, delight.
Last week a friend took me through an interactive exhibit called, “Dialog (sic) in the Dark.” A series of galleries, depicting a cafe, a busy urban street, a supermarket and a park, were built without lights. We visitors were led through with white canes and a patient guide, allowing us to experience our environment as a blind person would, and essentially, to use and appreciate our other 4 senses. How could a better use of design help here? There are too many worthy issues to list. Sidewalks, shelving, automobiles, chairs. Each left a bit to be desired when sight was not a possibility. The biggest disappointment by far was our currency. Trying to buy a coffee, the great American greenback is just as deficient in the dark. In her post, Arieff gives a greak synopsis of it’s well-known visual demerits. All you have to do is buy something in Zurich. Or Sydney, to see how we lag behind in our design conciousnees. And without sight? I can understand now why the single is the bill of choice for the visually impaired. Use anything else at your own peril. How about making different denominations different sizes? Printed on different paper? As our (blind) guide said, “being blind means putting your trust in others everyday and in everyway.” How can using design effectively empower people?
Some years ago, my old boss and professor Fred Koetter told me about a project they were working on in Seoul, Korea. His firm, Koetter Kim & Associates, was re-designing a huge portion of central Seoul around a soon-to-be-uncovered river. His plan featured new housing and commercial districts, yes, but also a new waterway and park, running straight through town. It was like cracking the window in a stuffy car. Like many waterways in many cities around the world, the Cheonggyecheon had become an open sewer and pesky barrier to traffic and commercial growth. The solution was to relegate this unruly natural phenomenon to a dark and murky tunnel beneath the buzz of progress. It became a myth. A story. A home for alligators and creatures of the night that thrive out of sight and in the dark.
And then something funny happened on the way to the Forum. We started to value our resources. We realized, surprise, surprise, that we are human beings, and as such, are part of the natural world. By banning all things green and breathing and flowing and growing from our man-made utopia we were putting ourselves in concrete cages and ignoring a critical piece of our DNA. The Times reported yesterday of the amazing success that Seoul has found in letting their river see the light of day again. Sure there were naysayers, arguing about parking problems and road constriction. But the response has been exuberant and exalted and, well, expected. It should come as no surprise that humans like things that flow and grow. As the assitant mayor said, “we’ve basically gone from a car-oriented city to a human-oriented city.” It’s like a taking a deep breath. What a novel idea.
Los Angeles has been thinking about this for years. As has Hartford, CT. And Rome. And Paris. And Peekskill. Seoul has shown us there is immense value beyond the $384 million construction cost. Sitting by a river? Priceless.
Tucked away in a corner of Southwest Connecticut is one man’s retreat and symbol of the independent spirit. No one would dream of calling Phillip Johnson an outsider architect, yet his Glass House in New Canaan was an attempt to create balance from the daily lunches at the Four Seasons and the harried business in the city. Or was it?
Everyone knows of Phillip Johnson. Up until his death, at age 98, he was the consummate insider. Witty, wealthy, and connected, he created a career around knowing the right people at the right time. Straddling many decades and corresponding to the prevailing architectural style of the day, his portfolio is a visual zeitgeist and three-dimensional review of who he was currently courting. His innate reverence created, among many others, the Glass House, the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center, and the Sony (nee AT+T) building. Flighty? Possibly. Trendy? By all means. Talented? To be sure. The man who gets credit for formalizing Modernism and preaching Post-Modernism, was also the back-room matchmaker for three generations of architects. He was like the Kevin Bacon of 20th century art and design, but 5 degrees of separation closer. Whether you knew him, wanted to know him, or wished that you had never met him, he had a connection to everyone.
True to his Miesian roots, his compound in Connecticut followed this same ethos. He could not really retreat into the woods. He went to New Canaan because a group of his friends were already buying property up there. He couldn’t just build a simple weekend home, he built a series of “follies” that continued a noisy dialogue long after he went back into the city. His famed painting collection was safely entombed underground. His sculptures were placed in a modern-day Greek Temple. His house – the famous house – has no walls. He turned his desire for escape into a stage. What is inside is now outside, for all to see and celebrate. We know of the Glass House not through Johnson’s personal musings, but through the many, many stories of his guests. His friends. His mentors. His disciples. His people. The cult of personality turned the inside man out.
And now, we take trains up to New Canaan and walk circles around the house snapping digital stories and posting them on blogs. Good on you PJ, you’re still the perfect host.
There’s a funny thing about architecture. It is a permanent art, one for the ages. Once something gets built, it is supposed to stay put. At least that’s the idea. If architects designed buildings with that in mind (as opposed to, say, the 25 – 30 year business model of real estate developers) we might have a lot healthier, durable, sustainable communities. We might get buildings that were built to last – that we respect and actually WANT to remain – not the mediocre boxes made with mediocre materials that ask, even beg, for the bulldozer.
Money talks and architects listen. Don’t’ get us wrong, Mapos is a firm believer in reuse and recycling, in all scales and applications. But what happens when you can’t hold back to tide? That’s not the funny part.
The funny part is that, while “architecture” may be permanent, buildings are not. They get old. They change use. They get renovated. They deteriorate. They sometimes go to pasture. The Japanese, among many other cultures, design and build temples based on the understanding that our lives, and our buildings, are temporary. We are part of larger forces at work.
When Toyo Ito’s U-house was being torn down in the early 90’s, the architecture community was up in arms. Ito wasn’t. He designed it that way. It served its purpose, had a good life, it’s owner (Ito’s sister) had moved, and it went its course. Nicolai Ouroussoff reminded me this week of Ito’s house, and his career. Well known in architecture circles, he is little known outside of Japan. With an inspired and accomplished body of work (be sure to check out his Sendai Mediatheque and Tod’s boutique, both in Japan), he has continued to change and evolve throughout his career, just as his buildings have and continue to do. His signature style is the absence of one. Perhaps that is why he has maintained his indie status his entire career – he doesn’t fight for permanence nor for developer inspired transience. He probably doesn’t fight at all. Less stress. Better sleep. Better architecture.
While there is no silver bullet, it is always encouraging to hear of creative ideas that can affect and change more than one challenge at a time. Obama certainly highlights that the “green revolution” will have transformative effects on our economy that both creates jobs and weans us off of fossil fuels, making us safer from unstable oil-rich threats. Or the revamping of health care will give access to quality treatment for everyone and help lead us out of deficit spending.
Transportation, always a thorny issue in urban planning debates, is also a challenge to the environment as millions of vehicles release millions of tons of CO2. How about a system that can decrease the amount of cars (and trucks and buses) on the road which would simultaneously reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions? And furthermore, do it on the cheap? Many cities around the globe have been implementing Rapid Bus Systems for decades. (I rode workable routes in Pittsburgh and Adelaide, Australia back in the early 90′s). Trains – both subterranean and surface – definitely have the cool factor, but have proven to be exponentially more expensive to implement than re-organizing existing streets to create dedicated bus lanes. For cash-strapped municipalities, especially in the developing world (where almost all of the 21st century mega-cities will be found), this is a no-brainer. Bogota, population 7 million, is going strong with a growing fleet of low-emission buses and willing passengers. Car congestion is down and so are emissions. Their biggest obstacle? Making sure the bus lanes stay clear of other traffic and convincing riders that bus travel can be cool.
Could this work in the US? Bogota already had a massive population that grew up riding buses. Here we would need to break the car-culture, ingrained in our suburban psyche. The only way to get us out of our cars is to hit our pocket-books and day planners. Spend 2 hours in traffic and $4/gallon on gas and we may just see the light. Oh, and have localized competitions for the bus re-design. Lights, tags, graphics, music, news and entertainment. Zip to work in a fuel-sipping-media-displaying-wheel-spinning-mega-ride.
One of the driving tenets here at Mapos revolves around the act of re-use. By adaptively re-using materials, buildings, and cities, we can tap into the embodied energy of existing projects negating the need to expend redundant new energy. It also diminishes the amount of ‘stuff’ sent to the landfill. To quote Bill McDonough, “when we throw something ‘away,’ where is ‘away?’” We’re always looking for innovative ways to uncover and celebrate the existing context and use it as an integral component and respected companion to any new construction.
I would not classify us as historical preservationists, per se, but more pragmatic situationists. I mean, existing ‘stuff’ is free, after all. If used intelligently, it can only help the budget. But what do we say about buildings that are so far gone and in such a state of disrepair, that to save and restore and adaptively re-use proves illogical? Sometimes this points to mere architectural failure. As an architect, this may be hard to admit, but some buildings just don’t work. Priutt Igoe had to go, for example. And what happens when we encounter a structure of historical and cultural importance that doesn’t work? Ourroussoff recently reported that Kurokawa’s famed Nakagin Capsule Tower is slated for demolition. He argues that this is a loss of culture, and specifically that we are not respecting the importance of this building (and by extension other buildings in similar predicaments) in our own cultural psyche. Its demolition would be like erasing a piece of our own collective history. But it doesn’t work. It leaks. It’s falling apart. We never really lived the way it meant to have us live. What do we do? The architect in me wants it to remain, in some capacity. (We all want Pennsylvania Station back). The realist in me says it’s broken and it can’t be fixed. Do we ship it away and put it in a park? Do we hit the pause button and wait for everyone to feel their way to consensus? Do we knock it down and chalk it up to a bold experiment that ran its course? Maybe we can auction off the units on eBay. Like ancient artifacts from Mesopotamia to Rome, little bits of Kurokawa will become a new diaspora living on in every corner of the world.
Just off the shores of Brooklyn and Manhattan is a small island. 172 acres of little used open space sprinkled with empty and aging buildings, barracks, houses and forts. It’s almost impossible to accurately describe the feeling of being so close to the great American city yet definitely separated. Governor’s island sits in direct contrast to everything we have come to love and expect of New York: tall, big, loud, crowded, active, fast. It is a culture of non-congestion. It is the quintessential “Other.” I have been “over there” a handful of times times and every visit brings a visceral desire to hide away in some obscure corner, stay overnight, and make the island the most amazing Capture the Flag playing field and summer escape known to humanity. I guess the Lenape Indians had this figured out two axes, some beads, trinkets, and 300 years ago.
This summer, Creative Time has produced an art event titled, “This World & Nearer Ones.” 18 artists have installed 18 art works. The most effective are those that integrate their unique setting into the final piece.
The Bruce High Quality Foundation produced a short film, “Isle of the Dead.” It turns the entire island, and in particular its cinema location, as a home to a resurrected art culture. The bastions of the visual arts have been killed by the recession. As a viewer of the film, each and everyone of us is participating in its macabre but hopeful afterlife. Timely for sure, I felt like an extra in Michael Jackson’s Thriller video – full of mad energy covered in smeared mascara.
Edgar Arceneaux hid sub-woofers through out an old officer’s house. As you wander around, you are confronted with intense vibrations and seismic rumblings. The house is beyond haunted. It literally puts the hairs on you neck on end. It’s an indescribable sensation. Exciting and troubling like a being briefly shocked by a live electrical wire.
The most beautiful installation was by Anthony McCall. He transformed the nave of an old church into a smoke filled light projection. He cuts a palpable dark volume with laser-like intensity of light.
And then there’s hammocks. And picnics. And bike riding. And sunset gazing. There used to be a Burger King that served Beer. I’m writing this from the attic of house no.14. This is the new Mapos World Domination Headquarters.
We could not call ourselves architects, or even New Yorkers, if we did not visit and comment on the newly (and partially) opened Highline.
Our weekly Mapos derive took us to the West side and up a flight of stairs. While crowded with enthusiastic tourists, citizens and parkophiles, it still felt like a secluded discovery. The new prespectives that the highline gives you are impressive, and yes, exciting. I have always felt a bit of disappointment when visiting newly opened architectural “wonders.” It’s a bit logical, actually; how can the real thing live up to the hype? The Highline, however, quickly fell into the elite Mapos category of “Better than Expected,” joining Scarpa’s Castelvecchio and OMA’s Seattle Library. In fact, the only criticism I could utter was not really a criticism: “let’s see how it looks in the middle of January.” Well, OK, I do wish the end at Gansevoort was a little more end-like. Pull back the guardail 5 feet and let the steel girders stretch out from under our feet?
Besides the lofty perch, the other quality most admired would be it’s relationship to the existing buildings. Over. Under. Through. Beside. Old and forgotten surfaces, never meant for prime-time viewing, now get thrust into the limelight. I hope they remain as gritty, banal, and textured as they are now. That’s what makes the perspective so unique. Other highlights are the beautiful details, first and foremost the concrete “fingers” that perform a constant back-and-forth with the landscape. Smart. Simple. Effective.
Visit. Walk. Look. Enjoy. It’s hard to imagine this was ever thought of as an eyesore.
As we are all collectively “tightening our belts” in this fun and frugal 2009, the cities a lot of us live in are thinking about doing the same. The Harvard economist and urban guru Edward Gleaser writes up a conise argument and history of the need for our over-bloated cities to go on a diet and trim the fat, literally.
The Rustbelt cities started their population declines in the 1960′s as the promise of post-WWII homeownership reached it’s heyday. Millions fled the cramped conditions of the inner city for the prized lawn we could each call our own. More Americans now live in the suburbs than anywhere else, leaving the pockmarked and abandoned mothership without any tax-fuel. The result? Cities can’t afford to keep themselves functioning. The answer? Downsize. Relocate thousands to concentrate the population and minimize the infrastructural need. Transform thousands of homes into fields and forests. Will the Iriquois return?
In a bizarre reversal of fortune, the Sunbelt cities, fueled by years on the promise of warmth and cheap land, has been seeing the de-migration begin. The suburbs had already shown their banality. The Ponzi-like real estate schemes are finalizing the dexodus and the suburbs now have thousands of homes in foreclosure. The result? Entire metropolitan areas are looking for a purpose.
Can Buffalo become Buffalo again? Should it?
The founding members of Mapos will be speaking at two upcoming events for the International Interior Design Association and the Retail Design Institute over the next 2 days. The presentation will analyze current trends in the green movement as it relates to historical precedent, and will cover a handful of case studies, including the venue for both events, the Green Depot Flagship Store.
Is it something in the air? Small cracks of real estate logic are appearing in the mainstream media and Mapos is seeing glimmers of hope in this topsy-turvy economy. Obama says, “the end is not in sight,” but at least we have something to feel optimistic about.
Amy Cortese reports on the growing movement in Transit Oriented Development (TOD). The iron arteries that tied this country together during its industrial revolution have long been abandoned. I joined a generation of kids who thought they were our private playgrounds, safely creating Rambo-inspired getaways on their lines. On one end is the heralded Highline in New York, which turned rails into a park and with it seeded civic excitement, open space, and tangible development along its banks. On the other are communities from Denver to Dallas to Columbus that are planning on turning rails into, well, rails. Defunct rail lines will once again carry passengers from bedroom communities to downtown and to each other. Suburbs are getting a jolt of master planning they haven’t seen since their first stop lights were planted.
And what happened between these periods of growth? Oh yeah, the monoculture we call the Sluburbs spilled out across our communities covering them in a thin sheen of banality. It’s not new to report that, relegated to same-use zoning, retail corridors are dying and taking thier neighbors with them. It’s not new to fault the developers for this dilemma, cannabalizing themselves as they devour open space and excrete cheap empty boxes in their wake. Thanks Wal-Mart!
I’ve always enjoyed Rob Walker’s column, “Consumed,” and am thrilled this week he looked under the cover of an infrastructural consumer dilemma. Small measures are being studied, and smaller actions are being implemented, to counter the trend of the retail world eating itself. What are the solutions? Reuse. New use. Mixed use. It’s almost “urban” in its DNA. More and more municipalities are nurturing their zoning laws to put community interest above short term tax gains.
Our thinking caps are on. Millions of square feet of climate controlled space sit empty. The embodied energy within those walls could fuel a fleet of SUVs. Rail connection could help down-size parking lots. And then our biggest dilemma would be what we do with acres of asphalt.
Like most involved New Yorkers, Mapos has been keenly following the developments at the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn. In Ouroussoff’s latest blip in the Times, he rightly lambasts the latest turn of events. Like the Hudson Yards and Ground Zero before (and Penn Station, Lincoln Center, ad infinitum, save Rockefeller Center), large scale urban developments go the way of Darwin on Spike TV: large, strong, and dumb.
I have always felt bad for Beyer Blinder Belle, the competent, thoughtful firm who’s first proposals for Ground Zero were thrown under the bus. To be sure, I was no friend of their schemes. They were boxy, unimaginative, boring, and not fit for the emotional spotlight worthy of the new development. Enter the invited competition of starchitects – and even better, teams of starchitects working together! – to wow us with their skill and vision. I applauded the process and felt that finally, somebody was doing something right. We all remember Daniel Liebeskind won, as he should. His scheme showed bravado, talent, hope, excitement, and plenty of emotion. Does anyone remember what happened in the ensuing years? Liebeskind’s masterplan was slowly compromised by money, special interests, and vocal critics close to the project, including the newly paranoid police department. It became the master plan of the LCD (lowest common denominator) and highly, highly, reminiscent of Beyer Blinder Belle’s original plan. (Oh, the way the cookie crumbles. I hope the suits at BBB have pre-printed “I told you so” greeting cards.) It is a shame, a downright public shame, that real imaginative development just can’t seem to happen. I feel happy for BBB that they were vindicated, but I feel worse for us, the citizens and visitors to New York. We will never be allowed to walk the dynamic vision that actually won the competition.
Back at Atlantic Yards, I was never a fan of Frank Gehry’s masterplan for one simple reason: homogeneity. It was all designed by one man (read: one firm) and no singular entity should have that much control (see Robert Moses). Like a good meal, cities are made with diversity and the right mix of different ingredients. If pressed, however, I will admit with Ourroussof that Gehry’s scheme was appropriately “urban.” It involved layered spaces and complex spatial relationships. It was not your father’s urban infill. All that is gone now. Beyer Blinder Belle, taking a turn as Ellerbe Becket, has the last laugh again. What is left is a Home Depot with a basketball court inside. In the center of Brooklyn. In the center of OUR city. Beyer Blinder Belle and Ellerbe Becket may be right. In fact, they ARE right. They knew all along that left to its own devices, human nature will succumb to corporate decision making and bland, boring, SAFE conculsions. I hate that they are right.
Back to the Arieff blog we go. What better forum than the annual International Council on Shopping Centers (ICSC) convention in Las Vegas to review and comment on the cultural leanings of the American psyche. Getting excited? Um, you bet!
Of course we should not be surprised that very little at the convention is groundbreaking, or remotely new, or even interesting. Even in this economy, it’s still Bigger, Better, More of the Same. This industry is the poster-child for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” set. Taking a cue from Hollywood, it’s all about sequels with bolder special effects and the same, tired story lines. At least some developers are beginning to embrace “mixed-use” if that only means including more program under one roof: malls attached to stadiums.
Arieff was there to judge an ICSC competition on Future Visions. Certainly the overlooked “charitable” component of such amped-up consumerism, she highlighted some thoughtful designs from architects thinking about where the culture may be pointing us. And that’s the key differentiator here – the culture. Each of her highlighted entrants began with the premise of the shopper. What are they doing? Who are they with? What tools are they using to help navigate through their day? (Answer: iPhone). How are our communities changing? What do we need? While the designs are still grandiose, at least there is a human scale here. A nod to the values that keep us linked.
Here at Mapos, we have a saying. It’s called “Design Matters.” Sure it’s a little biased and completely self-serving. More than a tool to produce tangible objects and buildings, design is increasingly being valued for its creative ability to approach and define complex issues. Understood at multiple dimensions and scales – and in all media – design can
transform and affect positive change in every aspect of daily life.
And our favorite crush, Allison Arieff agrees. She puts the design industry – and designers, clients, fabricators, and ultimately all of us ‘consumers’ – to task in rethinking, “what do we actually need?” Well designed objects serve many purposes, not the least of which is the non-stop human necessity to express ourselves and rejoice in things beautiful and true. In this day and age, however, we certainly do need to re-evaluate what we do with our resources, from financial to fossil. As designers, we are in a particularly strategic and yes, suspect, position to cast a light on the design-fabrication-consumption-industrial-complex. Or, as Arieff says,
“At its heart, design is about problem-solving, but it’s also about problem-identifying. Instead of creating a need for things, designers can now focus on responding to things we do need. We may have never been confronted with as many problems as we are today; the blame for them can’t be attributed to designers, but many future solutions can — and will be.”
Our friend Brigitte Cooperman turned us on the this recent article in the WSJ. Be sure to check out the photos and interactive graphics.
It’s full of dismal stats and unsurprising news that more and more malls are dying. When will we learn that single-use, homogenous building types are not sustainable? Haven’t we learned anything about diversifying our (programmatic) portfolios?
While the article mentions that, “during past economic cycles, dead malls were frequently redeveloped into mixed-use space that includes apartments, offices or parks. Repurposing mall space today will be more difficult,” we would argue that this is short-sighted and narrow minded. Malls were (and are) much, much more than commercial real estate properties. In hundreds of communities across the country, the mall is the only “meeting place, or, in some cases, a city center.” How can we re-invigorate these massive physical, architectural, and cultural resources? The embodied energy of the steel, concrete, brass hand rails, and skylights alone warrant an assesment. When you consider their value as the center of social, civic and commercial life, the assets are greatly magnified.
Dismantling one of New York’s major thoroughfares – Broadway – brings the expected dreams of a greener, pedestrian friendly future, and the requisite cristicisms. We come down on the side of the “liberal elite” on this one, even though we’re not that elite (liberal, yes).
Why? Grand ideas are needed to address grand problems. Traffic congestion in New York, like health care in this country, has been broken for decades. This, everyone agrees. And when solutions are offered, it is not surprising that human nature falls prey to the “fear of change.” The naysayers are just that: people accustomed to say “nay” to change simply because it is an unknown. When Central Park was suggested, the city was in an uproar. Who would do away with the park now?
Read this for a great review of this dramatic change.