Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reclaimed Architecture

A provocative talk on the presupositions of the modern building industry, architects included. I had never heard anyone quote Nietchze, Sartre, or Plato while talking about architecture before.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Link Round-Up

I am on spring break in Seattle, and thoughts will be forthcoming, so in lieu of a real post, here are some interesting links to things I have been meaning to write on:

LA Weekly article on Stephen Box, a bike advocate who is running for the LA city council.

A proposal for a simplified urbanist zoning code.

A New York Times piece on NIMBYism in supposedly progressive places to development like bike lanes and BRT.

Finally, a look at the true financial costs of sprawl by new urbanist architect Steve Mouzon.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Madmen Supports Highspeed Rail

Meanwhile, Ohio's Governor is trying to redirect funding from a Cincinnati street car that is projected to spur $1.5 billion in new investment in the downtown. You can read about it on Streetsblog here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

An Open Letter to Metro Detroit

Being new to Michigan, I am not in any way an expert on the state. I have only been to Detroit once. When I did go, I was impressed by how nice so many of the buildings would have been if they were not neglected or abandoned. I was expecting falling down, rotting buildings and trailer parks, but I could have seen myself happily living most of the townhouses or apartment buildings that we passed if they had not looked like they were in a ghost town.

That is all to give context to a letter written by Andrew Basil, a lawyer with a firm that has offices in Troy and Ann Arbor. Several things he said really struck a chord with my experiences since moving to Michigan. In particular, he says,
There’s a simple reason why many people don’t want to live here: it’s an unpleasant place because most of it is visually unattractive and because it is lacking in quality living options other than tract suburbia. Some might call this poor 'quality of life'. A better term might be poor 'quality of place.'”
I have to commend Grand Rapids for having some areas where this is definitely not true, but there is a complacency with what Jane Jacobs calls the “Great Blight of Dullness.” Basil has excellent photos showing this type of space in Michigan, though the pictures could have been taken anywhere there is car-centric development.

The letter is well worth reading in its entirety, because he both shows businesses' interest in building people-centered spaces and counters the argument that you need a robust economy to build good urban spaces. Rather, you need good urban spaces to build lasting prosperity.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Handmade Computerization

I read an article in the New York Times earlier today on bespoke clothing shops in Vienna. One thing that one of the interviewees said made me look at computerization in a different way. George Gaugusch said "I think customization is an idea that’s becoming modern again — not to have 10 suits done cheaply, but to have two or three that are made for you." I had not looked at it this way before, but we are used to being able to set up anything on a computer exactly how we want it. We change backgrounds, ringtones, and browser themes. The whole idea of multiple user accounts on a computer points to this, though that did not last because everyone wanted their own machine.

Before the industrial revolution, everything was handmade, so by definition it was custom but expensive. The industrial age emphasized making things that worked for everyone and were cheap. Perhaps the internet revolution will combine the best of each to achieve cheap customized quality things.

Perhaps the bespoke shops of the near future will combine the meticulous attention to fit that characterizes them now while using computers and machines to achieve even higher quality. Or we may continue to drown in mass-produced junk - who knows.