Rory Stott

McMansions: The Ultimate Symbol of American Inequality

© Flickr CC User Doug Downen

In this fascinating post for Salon, Thomas Frank holds nothing back on the topic of so-called “McMansions“. Charting their history from the 1980s to today, he reveals the economics and government policies which made them possible, concluding that they are not just a symptom of the inequality in modern US society, but the very cause of it: “Everything we do seems designed to make this thing possible… This stupendous, staring banality is the final outcome for which we have sacrificed everything else.” You can read the full article here.

How Kiev’s Independence Square Helped Spur an Uprising

© Flickr CC User Michael Kötter

In a fascinating article for the GuardianOwen Hatherley visits Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev, the public square at the heart of the Ukranian revolution that ironically was designed under Stalin as a Baron Hausmann-style weapon against uprisings. Hatherley examines how elements of the public space were utilized by protesters, and how different areas of the square are now hosting a variety of political factions. You can read the full article here.

Origami Houses: Tables That Become Shelters When Disaster Strikes

The Floating Origami Houses. Image Courtesy of

In the immediate aftermath of an earthquake, the need to provide shelter and privacy for those affected is outranked only by the need for food and water. As such, a lot of effort is now put into planning for disaster: how will shelters be distributed? How can they be built cheaply, in large numbers? The answers to these questions have usually led to a standardized design, distributed to any part of the world in the days after an earthquake strikes.

But is this the best way to deal with these natural disasters? Architecture Global Aid, a group based in Spain and Japan, thinks not. They’re developing a series of lightweight, fold-able shelters which are actually distributed to earthquake-prone areas in preparation for future earthquakes, rather than in response to one. And unusually, these “Origami Houses” have different designs to suit conditions in different countries.

Read on to find out more about these Origami Houses

Applications Now Open for ManTownHuman’s Summer School

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Building on the success of their first Winter school in 2010, ManTownHuman’s “Critical Subjects” school returns this summer. The week-long event that will serve as a platform to debate vital architectural questions as diverse as “what is ‘nature’?”; “whatever happened to the avant garde?”; and “what is architecture for?” Applications are currently open – 30 of the keenest architecture students from the UK and beyond will be chosen for their critical and innovative thought.

The school will visit a different venue each day, with hosts including Zaha Hadid Architects, Arup Associates and The Architectural Review. In a series of lectures, debates and design challenges, students will be expected to explore these topics in greater depth than is usually possible in architecture school, challenging the method of received wisdom that is increasingly taking hold in education, as explained by event organizer Alastair Donald in his article for The Architectural Review.

Applications are open until May 7th, with the event taking place between July 13th-19th. For more information and to apply, visit the event’s webpage here.

Title: Critical Subjects: A ManTownHuman Summer School
Website: http://www.mantownhuman.org/
Organizers: ManTownHuman
From: Sun, 13 Jul 2014 17:00
Until: Sat, 19 Jul 2014 18:00
Venue: Multiple venues in

Glasgow Scraps Plan for Europe’s Largest Demolition

© Amanda Vincent-Rous

UPDATE: The Guardian reports that the plans to demolish the Red Road Flats during the Commonwealth Games have been scrapped due to concerns over public safety. The following news was originally published as “ to Demolish Iconic Modern Towers in Europe’s Largest Demolition” on April 10th, 2014.

To mark the arrival of the Commonwealth Games in July, Glasgow is planning a twist on the usual opening ceremony: the customary fireworks are going to be replaced with explosives of an altogether different kind, as the demolition of all but one of the remaining Red Road Flats buildings will be broadcast live into the stadium.

The demolition of the five 30-story buildings will take 15 seconds and will be the largest ever attempted in Europe, according to the organizers. According to Games Organizer Eileen Gallagher, including the demolition as part of the opening ceremony shows that Glasgow is “a city that is proud of its history but doesn’t stand still, a city that is constantly regenerating, renewing and re-inventing itself.”

Chinese to Build “Dubai 2.0″ in Kenya

The new city is planned for land South-East of Kenya’s Capital, Nairobi. Image © Flickr CC User DEMOSH

As reported by Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper, a group of Chinese investors has revealed plans for a new city in Kenya that will “match the splendour of Dubai“. Though the investors are still resolving details with the Kenyan government, the city is planned for an area in Athi River, around 30km south-east of Nairobi, and is billed as a Chinese-controlled economic zone. At this early stage, the plans feature at least 20 skyscrapers. You can find more details of the proposal here.

Prisons and Human Rights Violations: What Can Architects Do?

The execution chamber in Indiana where Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was killed in 2001: should architects be involved?

Originally published by the Architectural Review as “Discipline and Punish: the Architecture of Human Rights“, this article by the founder of Architects Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility Raphael Sperry outlines how prison design in the US and elsewhere is violating fundamental human rights, and how some architects have come to be complicit in these designs.

We think of architectural regulations as being there to ensure that buildings are safe for the public. But what if a building’s harm is not caused by unexpected structural failure but by the building performing exactly as intended? Can a building designed to facilitate human rights violations amount to a violation in itself? And what is the responsibility of the architects involved? These are the questions at the centre of the current debate in America around the architectural profession’s involvement in prison design.

Read on for more on the ethics of prison design after the break

The Depreciating Value of Form in the Age of Digital Fabrication

The ICD / ITKE Research Pavilion 2011, demonstrating an example of a Voronoi diagram at work. Image © ICD / ITKE University of Stuttgart

In this article, originally appearing on the Australian Design Review as “Tolerance and Customisation: a Question of Value“, Michael Parsons argues that the complex forms made possible by may soon be victims of their own popularity, losing their intrinsic value as they become more common and the skill required to make them decreases.

The idea of tolerance in architecture has become a popular point of discussion due to the recent mainstreaming of digital fabrication. The improvements in digital fabrication methods are allowing for two major advancements: firstly, the idea of reducing the tolerance required in construction to a minimum (and ultimately zero) and secondly, mass customisation as a physical reality. Digital fabrication has made the broad-brushstroke approach to fabrication tolerance obsolete and now allows for unique elements and tolerance specific to each element. The accuracy that digital fabrication affords the designer, allows for the creation of more complex forms with greater ease and control. So far, this has had great and far reaching implications for design.

Read on to find out how this ease of form-making could diminish the success of complex forms. 

Inside Johannesburg’s Infamous Ponte City Tower

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The history of Johannesburg‘s Ponte City Apartments is a provocative one: built in 1975 and designed by Manfred Hermer as the height of luxurious (white-only) living in South Africa, the continent’s tallest residential building soon became a notorious vertical slum, filled with crime and poverty, its signature hollow core re-purposed as a trash dump and a suicide drop.

Since 2001, however, the building has been the centerpiece of a drive to regenerate the wider Hillbrow neighborhood. The building is gentrifying once again – an almost color-coded gentrification as white people move back into the tower, mostly taking the more expensive upper apartments. However, as the video by Vocative shows, in the case of Ponte, gentrification is not as simple as elsewhere: heavy security eases the fears of middle class residents in what is still one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in . As the video shows, there’s a palpable excitement that, finally, the building is becoming a truly multi-ethnic community.

Round-Up: Floating Architecture

Courtesy of NLÉ architects

If a Ted Talk by Koen Olthius, this article in the Guardian, and Brazil‘s pioneering plan (currently in the pipeline) are anything to go by, now may be the time for futuristic, floating cities to become a reality. With that in mind, we’ve taken the opportunity to gather the best examples of floating architecture already constructed, including: a low-cost floating school in Lagos; an entire floating neighborhood in Ijburg, Amsterdam; a trio of cultural buildings in Seoul‘s Han River; a set of hotels in a remote area of Cisnes, Chile; and finally a beautiful home on Lake Union in Seattle. Enjoy!

Inside the Cool Offices of Manhattan’s Tech Companies

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With an emphasis on collaborative environments, relaxing atmospheres, and quirky branding, it’s always interesting to take a peek into the offices of tech companies, often found in the sprawling, multi-colored campuses of Silicon Valley. But how does this particular brand of interior design transfer to the more cramped spaces of a Manhattan office block? This video by Internet Week NY takes us behind the scenes at Tumblr, About.com and Fueled Collective to find out.

Designing for Sound In Our Everyday Spaces

The syn chron space by Carsten Nicolai was designed to combine experiences of and light. Image Courtesy of artcentron.com

In this interesting article in the New York Times, Allison Arieff highlights the often unconsidered importance of sound in architecture (outside of theaters and museums at least). She profiles the work of Acoustic Engineers at ARUP who have begun to work inschools and hospitals, taking into account the effects poor sound environments can have on us in our everyday lives. You can read the full article here.

Venice Biennale 2014: French Pavilion to Debate Modernism’s Successes and Failures

Though his Unite d’Habitation remains popular, many mass housing projects inspired by Le Corbusier were less successful. Image © Vincent Desjardins

With Le Corbusier casting a long shadow over the last century of France‘s architectural history, it is not surprising that, faced with Rem Koolhaas‘s theme of ‘absorbing modernity’ at the 2014 Venice Biennale, the country might have a unique reaction.

Jean-Louis Cohen‘s initial proposal for the French Pavilion, titled “Modernity: Promise or Menace?” reflects this history: “since 1914 France has not so much ‘absorbed’ modernity as it has shaped it with significant contributions made by French architects and engineers in order to meet the requirements of different segments of society. As is the case in many countries, modernity has had to come face to face with social reform and by doing so it has made great dreams such as quality housing and community services for all partially come to fruition. But this encounter has come about in a original way, also generating considerable anxiety.”

Read on after the break for more about the themes explored by the French Pavilion

The Battle for the Skies Over London

Courtesy of CPAT / Hayes Davidson / Jason Hawkes

In response to the recent study by New London Architecture, which found that there are currently over 230 tall buildings either planned or under construction in London, an argument is brewing over the UK capital’s sudden, seemingly uncontrolled, growth.

The most vocal reaction to all of this has come from Rowan Moore, architecture critic for The Observer, who has teamed up with the Architects’ Journal to launch a campaign calling for more rigorous planning and public consultation when it comes to tall buildings. The campaign has support from 80 signatories, a list that reads like a ‘who’s who’ of British architecture, including architects, planners, politicians, developers and artists as well as a range of civic societies.

Read on for more reaction to ’s tall building boom.

Farrell’s Architecture Review: 60 Ways to Improve the UK

Farrell believes that planning needs to be more proactive: “You could buy a plot of land, get lucky, and have a Shard built in your back garden. The tallest building in Europe was never on anyone’s plan, yet it stands there today”. Image © Renzo Piano

After a year of gathering evidence and consultation, Sir Terry Farrell’s review of UK architecture has finally been released. The review, commissioned by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, includes 60 proposals to improve the quality of the UK‘s built environment, targeting a wide range of groups including education, planning, government and developers.

Vaizey has urged everyone involved in the construction industry to get behind the report, saying that it “needs to kick-start a national debate” in order to achieve its aims.

Read on for some of the recommendations from the report

A Star-Studded Speaker Lineup for UIA’s World Congress 2014

In August of this year, the International Union of Architects (UIA) will once again host their World Congress, a triennial event that focuses on one critical topic in our architectural culture. Whereas the Tokyo 2011 Congress was focused on the future, this year’s congress in Durban will concentrate not on a different time but a different place: the “otherwhere”, or as they put it, the “anywhere-but-here”. The Congress will explore ideas about how connectivity might shape our experience and alter the course of our social progress.

Read on for more about the themes of the 25th World Conference and the Keynote Speakers…

A Mini Marble Manhattan

Courtesy of David Zwirner Gallery

You’ve never seen Manhattan quite like this: Metropolis Magazine‘s Komal Sharma takes a look at “Little Manhattan“, a by Yutaka Sone which renders the famous island in 2.5 tons of solid marble. The power of the artwork lies in the play with scale: the initial impression of a huge marble block contrasts with the tiny, intricately detailed skyline forming a mere skin on top; the subsequent realization that this skin corresponds to the familiar vertical city brings you to a more complete understanding of ’s scale. You can read the full article here.

Deborah Sussman: Breaking the Boundaries Between Architecture & Graphic Design

© Flickr CC User David Cobb

In this delightful article on Metropolis Magazine, Christopher Hawthorne recounts his meeting with Deborah Sussman, the one-time protégé of Charles and Ray Eames whose work breaks the boundaries between graphic design and architecture. From her collaboration with Frank Gehry to her iconic designs for the 1984 LA Olympics, Sussman has come to define a curiously Californian style. You can read the full article here.