How a San Francisco Architect Reframes Design for the Blind

Downey uses thin wax sticks to create tactile sketches. Image © Patricia Chang

San Francisco architect Chris Downey is changing how design is employed for people with disabilities and redefining how architects can approach accessible design. In this article by Lamar Anderson on Curbed, we learn about how Downey has developed his own design methods and utilizes his rare skillset to draw attention to what architects often miss when designing for the public. 

Architect  is standing next to a pile of Sheetrock, balancing a white cane in the air like a tightrope walker’s pole. The week before, construction had begun on a new office for the Independent Living Resource Center of San Francisco, or ILRC, a nonprofit community center for people with disabilities. Downey holds the cane up to approximate for the center’s executive director, Jessie Lorenz, how the reception desk will jut out at an angle from a concrete column. Lorenz takes a step, and a pile of pipes on the floor clatters. “I don’t know what’s over there,” says Downey. Lorenz giggles. “I hope I didn’t break anything,” she says. Lorenz regains her footing and touches the cane. “That makes sense,” she says. “It’s almost like we’re funneling people into this part.”

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In Novels, A Character Flaw

Architects are woefully underrepresented in literature. According to Jay Wickersham, author of this article originally published in , there are very few that accurately portray designers without sensationalizing or glossing over their craft. He does, however, point us towards some exceptions: works of fiction that come close to grasping what the study and practice of architecture is all about. Read the full article, along with these recommendations, after the break.

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Could Detroit’s Most Remarkable Ruin Finally Have a Future?

© Flickr user Vishal Patel via Huffington Post

Originally posted on the Huffington Post’s Home Section as “How a Historic Movie Palace Became America’s Most Unusual Parking Garage,” this article tells of both the history and the possible future of the Michigan Theater – once one of ’s most opulent nights out, but now a crumbling (albeit oddly magnificent) garage. Emblematic of the city’s rapid decline, it turns out the recently-purchased Michigan Theater may also be a symbol of the city’s regeneration.

An inventor’s workshop. A movie palace. A rock club. A car park. A skate park. The backdrop for Eminem videos. Now it’s one of America‘s strangest parking garages, but a peek inside the Michigan Theatre reveals why it’s remained a landmark — and has a unique story that explains a lot about the importance of preserving cities’ historic architecture.

The former theater is attached to the Michigan Building, a partially occupied office tower, and might look familiar to some who have sought out urban decay photos. There’s something radically visceral about cars parked in the garage under the crumbling but ornately decorated ceilings of the site that in its heyday hosted legends like the Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Doris Day.

Read more on the theater’s unusual, inspiring story after the break

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Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 8

Heydar Aliyev Center / Zaha Hadid Architects. Image © Hélène Binet

We will be publishing ’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter outlines architecture’s connection to biology, and how biology influences our perception of form. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

The idea of a biological connection to architecture has been used in turn by traditional architects, modernists, postmodernists, deconstructivists, and naturally, the “organic form” architects. One might say that architecture’s proposed link to biology is used to support any architectural style whatsoever. When it is applied so generally, then the biological connection loses its value, or at least becomes so confused as to be meaningless. Is there a way to clear up the resulting contradiction and confusion?

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Animal Printheads, Biomimicry and More: How Nature Will Shape the Built Environment of the Future

©

Biomimicry is quickly emerging as one of the next architectural frontiers. New manufacturing processes such as 3D printing, coupled with the drive to make buildings more environmentally sustainable, have led to a wave of projects that are derived from natural phenomena or even constructed with biological materials. A recent example of this trend is “Hy-Fi,” this summer’s MoMA PS1 design that is constructed of organic and compostable eco-bricks. Other projects such as MIT Media Lab’s Silk Pavilion have taken biological innovation a step further by actually using a biometric construction processes – around 6,500 silkworms wove the Silk Pavilion’s membrane. “Animal Printheads,” as Geoff Manaugh calls them in his article “Architecture-By-Bee and Other Animal Printheads,” have already proven to be a viable part of the manufacturing process in art, and perhaps in the future, the built environment as well. But what happens when humans engineer animals to 3D print other materials?

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A Photographic Journey Through Zollverein: Post-Industrial Landscape Turned Machine-Age Playground

The “Skywheel” attraction. Image © Gili Merin

Derelict urban landscapes and abandoned spaces have always attracted adventurous explorers, searching for a peek into the world of a fallen industrial dystopia. That desire can be fulfilled by a visit to the Zollverein complex in Essen, Germany: once Europe’s largest coal mine, Zeche Zollverein was transformed over 25 years into an architectural paradise. Contributions by Rem Koolhaas, Norman Foster and SANAA are included in the 100-hectare park; overwhelming in its complexity, the estate includes rusty pipes, colossal coal ovens and tall chimneys, inviting over 500,000 people per day to gain an insight into the golden age of European heavy-industry.

Join us for a photographic journey through this machine-age playground, after the break…

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Shelf Life: 33 Book Recommendations From Architects & Designers

Three Love Problems from George Eliot’s Middlemarch, by Stephen Doyle. Photo: Stephen Doyle

Architects often don’t make time to read. Students and professionals alike will admit that the unread on their shelves outnumber the ones they’ve read - which is unfortunate because literary contributions to the field of architecture, from Vitruvius to Le Corbusier, have shaped the way we build and use buildings for centuries. With this in mind, ArchitectureBoston polled their readers, asking them to share their favorite architecture and design titles, to compile a list of important architecture books you should set aside some time for. The list covers a wide range of subjects, from historical theory to the practicalities of starting a firm. See all thirty-three titles, after the break.

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Case Study: The Unspoken Rules of Favela Construction

© Solène Veysseyre

“Building a house takes time and money,“ said Marcio, a local resident of Complexo do Alemão, one of ’s numerous , as he showed me around his house. This is why a house is often built over several generations: a floor may be laid, columns erected (rebar protruding), and a thin tin roof placed, but this is just to mark where the next builder should finish the job. “Constructing a roof with tiles is not a sign of wealth here — rather, it means that there’s not enough money to continue constructing the house,” explains Manoe Ruhe, a Dutch urban planner who has lived in the favela for the last six months.

An architect who has always been fascinated by the way people live, I had come to do a residency at Barraco # 55, a cultural center in Complexo do Alemão, in order to learn how its citizens went about building their communities. I had many questions: are there rules of construction? What are the common characteristics of each house? Do they follow the same typology? How are the interiors of the homes? What construction techniques and what materials are used?

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Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 7

Jyvaskyla University, designed by Alvar Aalto, is commonly cited as an example of “Critical Regionalism.” However, according to Salingaros’ , “Critical Regionalism” does not go far enough in removing architecture from the influence of Modernist principles. Image © Nico Saieh

We will be publishing ’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter, written by Salingaros and Kenneth G. Masden II, delves deeper into the limitations of current architectural philosophies, including “Critical Regionalism,” and justifies the creation of Intelligence-Based Design. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

As the architects of tomorrow, today’s students must come to understand the role and responsibility of their profession as something intrinsically tied to human existence and the lived experience. A new suggested educational system provides a direct means to design adaptive environments, in response to growing needs of the marketplace (client demand). Nevertheless, most architectural institutions continue to propagate a curricular model that has sustained an image-based method and its peculiar ideology for decades. We can trace this support to early twentieth-century anti-traditional movements. Reform is impossible without addressing the system’s long-forgotten ideological roots.

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Los Angeles: The River City?

The industrial corridor of the River at the Seventh Street bridge in downtown L.A., as photographed by Lane Barden for his Linear City Portfolio. Image Courtesy of Lane Barden

Did you know a 51-mile river runs through the city of Los Angeles? It might not be immediately recognizable as a river, but it’s there. In a drastic attempt to prevent flooding in the early 1900s, the Army Corps of Engineers essentially turned the entire river into a giant drainage channel by encasing it in concrete. This article, originally posted on Metropolis Magazine, investigates landscape architect Mia Lehrer’s vision to remedy the situation by transforming the desolate space into a public greenway, and a celebrated feature of Los Angeles.

From the offices of Los Angeles–based landscape architect Mia Lehrer, located near the western edge of Koreatown, you might not even know that Los Angeles has a river. It’s not visible from here — instead we can see other things L.A. is known for: the Hollywood sign, traffic, billboards, a dense urban grid that runs forever. In fact, unless you are right up against it, you may not see the river at all. In its current form, it sits as the abandoned, Brutalist evidence of the city’s past battles with seasonal flooding, an expedient way to move water quickly to the sea. To many, it’s more like an urban-design crime scene of missed opportunities and missteps, begging to be corrected. If Lehrer has her way, it will be corrected so that Los Angeles, the city with the huge drainage channel, becomes Los Angeles, river city.

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Inside SeARCH’s Utopian Hobbit Hole at the Architecture Biennale Rotterdam

Courtesy of Ronald Tilleman

Windowless, sparse, and connected to  — this is how architecture and urban design firm SeARCH envisions the home of the future. In their new project “Yourtopia,” they challenge stereotypical ideas about what a home should be and demonstrate an awareness about our relationship with our environment. This article originally published on Metropolis Magazine investigates the home’s minimal design and construction process.

Our homes shield us from distractions so that we may cultivate our own interests and, in the process, sense of selves. Dutch architecture firm SeARCH has taken this idea to the extreme with “Yourtopia”, a temporary refuge that radically reconsiders what a home can be.

More on Yourtopia’s radical living environment after the break

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Robert A.M. Stern Remembers Charles Moore

Moore House, Orinda, California, 1962. Image Courtesy of Morley Baer

Robert A.M. Stern, founder of his eponymous firm and dean of the Yale School of Architecture, remembers his colleague and friend Charles Moore in this article originally published by Metropolis Magazine. Stern writes about the details most would never know — including what it was like to be a guest in Moore’s home and his eating habits. Read on to learn about and their relationship over the years and Stern’s admiration for Moore.

As an architecture student at Yale editing Perspecta 9/10, I first met by telephone and through correspondence. I had come across his amazing early projects in the Italian magazine Casabella, and was intrigued by what I read about him and his partners — especially in a provocative essay by Donlyn Lyndon. I got in touch with Charles and he volunteered that he was interested in writing about Disneyland for the journal, leading to the publication of his justifiably famous article, “You Have to Pay for the Public Life,” as well as a portfolio of projects by his firm Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull, Whitaker.

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When Architects Try Their Hand at Industrial Design

Getting locals involved helped Workshop to engender a sense of community in Tacloban as well as solve their practical problems. Image © Nelson Petilla

From Frank Lloyd Wright to Mies van der Rohe, many architects have dabbled in designing smaller-scale items. While some argue that industrial design is not an architect’s place, many would beg to differ. The following article, originally published on Design Curial, describes various architects involved with industrial design today.

Architects who take a break from the built environment and turn their attention to designing smaller items are most often driven – initially at least – by what they see as necessity. They struggle to find the right , signage or lighting for their interiors, and convince their client that they are the perfect people to design them.

Those architects quickly get a taste for the smaller scale then hunt down opportunities to design other items, in the hope that some may go into mass production. This is further fueled by those ‘big names’ who are approached by manufacturers to use their signature to brand the product. While there is a logic to this sequence of events, it still begs the question: why would anyone who can get commissioned to design a building bother with anything smaller?

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5 Pros of Working Abroad in China

© Florian Delale

Have you ever considered working abroad in ? The thought may be daunting, but there are plenty of reasons why you should take that thought and turn it into a reality. Originally published on Arch-Shortcuts, here are five reasons to take the leap — as written by Arch-Shortcuts founder Chen Tang, an architect currently working in Hong Kong.

1. Bigger Projects

© Florian Delale

Forget about doing houses and deck extensions! Projects in China consist mainly of large schemes and developments – a small/medium sized project in China would be considered a significant project in other countries. You will be more focused on the overall image and conceptual design as opposed to intricate details – due to the short timelines of a project, which leads to our next point.

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(Re)Made in China: The Soviet-Era Planning Projects Shaping China’s Cities

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong. Image © Owen Lin under a CC licence

The following article, written by Jacob Dreyer and originally published in The Calvert Journal as “Maximum city: the vast projects of Soviet-era Russia are being reborn in modern China,” analyzes a fascinating phenomenon: the exportation of Soviet urbanism — or rather Stalinist urbanism  shaping Chinese cities today. 

As I cycled to work on 20 May this year, the Yan’an Expressway — Shanghai’s crosstown artery, named after the socialist city that was Mao Zedong’s 1940s stronghold — was eerily silent, cordoned off for a visit by President Vladimir Putin. We discovered the next day that the upshot of his visit was the signing a $400bn contract with China for the export of gas and petroleum. As President Barack Obama had once promised he would, Putin made a pivot to Asia, albeit on a slightly different axis. From Shanghai, the terms of the deal — which was immensely advantageous to China — made it seem as if Russia was voluntarily becoming a vassal-state of the People’s Republic, making a reality of both the predictions of Vladimir Sorokin’s dystopian fantasy novel Day of the Oprichnik and of Russian scare stories about Chinese immigrants flooding into Siberia.

The irony is that models of society imported from Russia during the Soviet period — as realised in popular culture, legal apparatuses and, of particular interest to the cyclist, in architecture and urban planning — are as influential as ever in China. If, as Chinese philosopher Wang Hui observed in his book The End of Revolution, Socialism was the door through which China passed on its voyage into modernity, then it was Russia that opened that door, by exporting models and expertise that laid the foundation for much of what constitutes modern China.

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Unified Architectural Theory: Chapter 6

Bagsværd Church, by Jørn Utzon, is commonly cited as an example of “Critical Regionalism.” However, according to Salilngaros’ , “Critical Regionalism” does not go far enough in removing architecture from the influence of Modernist principles. Image © Flickr User seier + seier – http://www.flickr.com/photos/seier/

We will be publishing ’ book, Unified Architectural Theory, in a series of installments, making it digitally, freely available for students and architects around the world. The following chapter discusses the extent to which architecture can be considered successful, i.e. adaptive to its specific locality. Although recognizing the merits of “Critical Regionalism,” Salingaros here explains why that framework is not enough to analyze architecture in terms of its environmental, cultural and emotional impact. If you missed them, make sure to read the previous installments here.

Suppose that we have successfully documented and catalogued all form languages, including those from vernacular traditions, past times, and contemporary practice. A scientific approach requires the next step, which comprises both analysis and classification. A catalogue is a useful store of information, but it is only the beginning of a systematic study.

What do some form languages have in common, and on what qualities do some of them differ? One measure is their degree of complexity, as documented by the length of description of the form language. Another is adaptation to locality. How far does a form language justify itself as being regional? Here, regional is the opposite of universal.

It is therefore useful to classify form languages by how much they adapt to a certain locality. If it does adapt, each language will, of course, adapt to its own specific locality: what we measure is how good that adaptation is. Success of adaptation is measured if buildings are energy efficient in the low-tech sense, so that the majority population can profit from them. By contrast, high-tech energy efficiency may be very useful, but it usually relies upon imported technology and materials, and is thus global, not regional.

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A Prize for Promise: GAGA’s Hunt for the New Hadid

Post-Graduate Runner-up, GAGA 2013. Rob Taylor – Golden Temple of Trash

A few years ago London’s Architectural Association held an exhibition called First Works: Emerging Architectural Experimentation in the 1960s & 1970s, which wonderfully gathered together early projects from a host of the most famous names in architecture. In both Zaha Hadid’s gorgeously animated plan/perspectives of the Taoiseach’s Residence and Daniel Libeskind’s intensely unstable drawings of Micromegas, you can already sense a lifetime of formal exploration ahead for the pair; and yet who would ever guess the unique tectonic language to come from the anonymously mundane drawings of the Sequoyah Educational Research Centre by ?

When I set up the Global Architecture Graduate Awards (GAGAs) at The Architectural Review in 2012, it was with the insight that, at its best, the work produced at the start of a career can be its most daring and projective. At that fertile threshold between the academy and practice, uncertain graduates can be years ahead of more assured and mature colleagues in the creative risks they are willing to take.

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Introducing “Potty-Girl,” The Architect of the Future?

“I look for inspiration (or opportunities) from people and places rather than looking for people and places to host my ideas.” — Julia King

Regardless of whether or not Shigeru Ban deserved to be awarded the profession’s highest prize this year (there are vociferous opinions on both sides of the issue), there is one thing that is certain: architecture is going through some serious growing pains. And perhaps no one encapsulates architecture’s shifting direction better than Julia King, AJ’s Emerging Woman Architect of the Year.

Pursuing a PhD-by-practice via the Architecture for Rapid Change and Scarce Resources (ARCSR) in the slums of India, Ms. King realized very quickly that the last thing these communities needed was architecture – or rather, what is traditionally considered “architecture.” After all, community-members were already experts in constructing homes and buildings all on their own. Instead, she put her architectural know-how towards designing and implementing what was truly needed: sewage systems. And so – quite by accident, she assured me - the title “Potty-Girl” was born.

In the following interview, conducted via email, I chatted with Ms. King about her fascinating work, the new paradigm it represents for  architecture, the need to forego dividing the “urban and rural” (she prefers ”connected and disconnected”), the serious limitations of architecture education, and the future of architecture itself. Read more, after the break.

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