Your Macbook Air has come at a price. And I’m not talking about the $1,000 bucks you shelled out to buy it.
I’m talking about the cost of lightness. Because the dirty secret of the “Cloud” – that nebulous place where your data goes to live, thus freeing up your technological devices from all that weight – is its very physical counterpart.
Data Centers. Giant, whirring, power-guzzling behemoths of data storage – made of cables, servers, routers, tubes, coolers, and wires. As your devices get thinner, the insatiably hungry cloud, the data centers, get thicker.
So why are you struggling to picture one in your mind? Why do we have no idea what they look like? What they do? Where they are? Because Data Centers have been hidden away and, although carefully planned, intentionally “undesigned.” The goal is to make the architecture so technologically efficient, that the architecture becomes the machinery, and the machinery the architecture. In the words of author Andrew Blum, Data Centers are “anti-monuments” that ”declare their own unimportance.”
But if architecture is the expression of our society’s values and beliefs, then what does this architectural obliteration mean? That we are willfully ignoring the process that creates the data we daily consume. As long as the internet works, who cares where it came from (or at what cost — and there is a considerable cost)?
So can design change our alienated relationship to our data? Should it? And if so, how?
Every June 21st since 2003, Go Skateboarding Day has rallied skateboarders around the globe – in skateparks and public plazas, downtown nooks and parking lots – to grind, ollie, and kickflip it with the best of them.
If I didn’t lose you at “ollie,” you’re probably wondering: what the heck does this have to do with architecture?
Well, I could talk about the architectural challenge that a skate park, as an interactive public space with specific topological requisites and social implications, offers architects. I could show you some cool testaments to the fact, such as the Architecture for Humanity-sponsored projects in Afghanistan and Manhattan, opening today.
But, rather selfishly, I’m more interested in what skateboarding has to offer us beyond skateparks. A skater, unlike your typical pedestrian, experiences space just as intensely and consciously as an architect himself, albeit in a different way. He/she is alive to the possibility of space, not in its totality, as an architect would be, but as a collection of tactile surfaces to be jumped on, grinded, and conquered.
The skater offers a revolutionary perspective for the architect: one that allows you to see buildings beyond what they were intended to be, to see (and design) buildings as “building blocks for the open minded.”
By Andrew Hawkins
Following the popular post, Work/Life/Work by Andrew Maynard, about the realities of the corporate architecture profession and the necessity of working for yourself, we bring you this blog post by Andrew Hawkins from his blog Hawkins Architecture, which explains what it’s like to own your own firm.
So you want to own your own firm. Well by all means, no time like today. Get the branding started. But there are hundreds of issues that you must be willing to address. I want to speak about a few today from my perspective as an operator of a small firm for going on 6 years. These are just topics to consider and your thoughts on them will surely be different. But they are worth the discussion. So…
By Steve Sanderson
The following Practice 2.0 article is an edited transcript from a presentation that Steve gave at the Intersections: Building Interdisciplinary Pedagogy | Building Integrated Practice symposium organized by the New York City College of Technology.
I’m happy to see so many familiar faces and honored to be included with such an esteemed panel. In fact I feel a bit under-qualified. If my Google searches serve me well, all of my fellow panelists have both undergraduate and advanced degrees in architecture and have held noted academic positions for several years. I, on the other hand, pursued a “non-traditional” path into the industry by first studying interior design then industrial design to doing one year of a MArch program and finally receiving a ME from John’s program at Stevens.
‘What is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much loved and elegant friend.”
It’s easy to see why British Architects get their hackles raised when it comes to Prince Charles. The oft-quoted gem above, said in reference to a proposed extension to the National Gallery in 1984, is one of hundreds of such Architectural criticisms Prince Charles has made over the years. Which wouldn’t matter of course, if, like any average Architectural layman’s opinions, his words didn’t have much weight.
His do. They’ve resulted in the intervention, squelching, and/or redesign of at least 5 major plans over the last twenty years. But let’s not write off Charles just yet.
With the Queen’s Jubilee ceremoniously having finished yesterday, the conversation analyzing her legacy has begun. And while London’s towering, cutting-edge high rises (a la Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, and Zaha Hadid), will be the shining examples of Elizabeth’s reign – I’d like to suggest something, and raise a few hackles, myself…
Curious for more? Keep reading about Prince Charles’ unlikely influence on Architecture, after the break…
Earlier this month, The New York Times’ Michael Kimmelman tackled a common narrative in the architecture and urban planning community. It goes like this: once upon a time, in the 1990s, Medellín, Colombia, was the “murder of the capital of the world.” Then thoughtful architectural planning connected the slums to the city. Crime rates plummeted and, against the odds, the city was transformed.
Well, yes and no.
What happened in Medellín is often called “Urban Acupuncture,” a way of planning that pinpoints vulnerable sectors of a city and re-energizes them through design intervention. But Kimmelman reports that while the city has made considerable strides in its commitment to long-term, urban renewal, it has prioritized huge, infrastructural change over smaller solutions that could truly address community needs.
Urban Acupuncture needn’t be expensive, wieldy, or time-consuming. But it does require a detailed understanding of the city – its points of vulnerability, ‘deserts’ of services, potential connection points – and a keen sensitivity to the community it serves.
So what does this have to do with food? Our food system presents seemingly unsurmountable difficulties. In Part II, I suggested that design could, at the very least, better our alienated relationship with food. But what if we used the principles of Urban Acupuncture to bring Agriculture to the fore of urban planning? What if we used pinpointed, productive landscapes to revitalize abandoned communities and help them access healthy foods? What if we design our cities as points of Urban “Agripuncture”?
What would our cities look like with Urban Agripuncture? Read more after the break…
“The typical Urban Dweller today has no understanding of where or how food is produced/distributed. We have become dependent on huge, powerful, profit-minded corporations to bring huge quantities of food from industrial farms into our supermarkets – but the entire process is hidden, massively complex, and, ultimately, unsustainable.” 
In Part I of this Series, I made the case that Urban Agriculture has incredible potential; unfortunately, however, in America, it has a long way to go. Our economy, our government, our technology, even our perception of what “food” is relies upon the Food System we currently have in place. Urban Agriculture could very well be the answer, but, frankly, not yet.
So where does that leave us today?
All over the world, citizens are taking the Food Revolution into their own hands, becoming urban bee-keepers, guerilla planters, rooftop gardeners, foodie activists. While community engagement and political lobbying are vital to these grassroots movements, so too could be design.
By designing our cities – our public and civic spaces, our hospitals and schools – with food in mind, we can facilitate this Revolution by making food a visible part of urban life, thus allowing us to take that crucial first step: eliminating the physical/conceptual distance between us and our food.
What does it look like to design with food in mind? More after the break…
São Paulo-based architect Anthony Ling has shared with us his perspective on Andrew Maynard’s recent article “Work/life/work balance”. Maynard’s article was extremely popular as it discussed some of the industries most controversial issues surrounding exploitative and exclusionary working practices. Although Ling agrees with many of Maynard’s points, he disagrees with the logic of Maynard’s two options for attaining a good work/life balance – (1) taking the risk of going broke and start your own practice or (2) leave the profession. Greatly inspired by Joshua Prince-Ramus, Ling proposes a solution that focuses on the creation of more business-minded, medium-sized practices.
By reading Andrew Maynard’s critique on today’s architectural workplace I could share his feelings and his rage towards the top-down management system run by many corporate architecture firms and the poor environment most architects work in. I couldn’t agree more that architecture is not as romantic as one sees it, and people who decide to embrace the field should know that. He is also right on by saying that a small percentage of time is spent on creative work and that architecture isn’t the highest paying profession, but I think most people who decide to enter the business already know about this last one. Although his ideas are inspiring and even agreeing with part of his solution to the problem, I think his logic is wrong. (more…)
Everyday, in the city of London, 30 million meals are served. That’s millions of trucks arriving to millions of stores and restaurants in a complex, tightly scheduled orchestration of production, transportation, and distribution.
We take it for granted that this system will never fail. But what would happen if these trucks were stopped? As unrealistic as it sounds, it’s happened – and not so long ago.
In 1989, over 57% of Cuba’s caloric intake was imported from the Soviet Union. When it collapsed, Cuba became, virtually overnight, solely responsible for feeding its population – including the 2.2 million in the city of Havana.  What happened next is an incredible story of resilience and innovation.
As our world becomes increasingly urbanized, our farms increasingly endangered, and our reliance upon fossil fuels increasingly undesirable, the question of how we will feed billions of future city dwellers is no mere thought experiment – it’s an urgent reality.
The story of Cuba offers us an interesting question: What would our cities look like if we began to place food production/distribution as the primary focus of urban design? And what will it take to make this vision a reality?
More on how Food can shape our cities, after the break…
According to its Web Site, The American Institute of Architects (AIA) aims to be two things for the architecture profession: a resource and a voice.
There’s no doubt that as a resource, the AIA plays its part well. But what does it mean to be a “voice”? Can an association speak for a profession? And, if so, what is it saying?
Today, over 17,000 architects and designers, contractors and project managers, magazines and bloggers (including us) will converge on the Capital for the AIA’s 144th National Convention, Design Connects. Over the course of three days, connections will be made, conversations had, and three keynote speakers present.
If the AIA represents how we conceptualize and communicate architecture, then let’s take a closer look at those speakers who will be its living mouthpieces: a famed historian, a member of the Obama administration, and the architects who participated in the 9/11 Memorials. The past, the present, the future. Taken together, they tell a story – of where we’ve been, yes, but, more importantly, where we’re going.
Australian architect Andrew Maynard, co-director of Andrew Maynard Architects, has shared with us his article “Work/life/work balance”, published first on Parlour. “Many women leave the profession due to the difficult combination of poor work cultures, long hours and low pay. But these conditions affect everyone – women and men – as well as the viability of the profession as a whole. Andrew Maynard sets out the issues and challenges the profession to end exploitative and exclusionary working practices.”
It is time for architectural work practices to grow up. We must stop deluding ourselves that architectural employees are anything other than a contemporary exploited labor force.
Epicurus argued that humans needed only three things in life to be happy – friends, freedom and an analyzed life. All evidence indicates that Epicurus had a rather good time while he was around. Now he is dead. I wonder if Epicurus became a senior associate at Philosopher & Associates Pty Ltd before he died? Surely this was a priority. Does contemporary architectural employment deny us our happiness; our friends, freedom and the opportunity for an analyzed life? Many would argue that being employed in architecture and the pursuit of happiness are irreconcilable. It can reasonably be argued that most architects, and almost all recent graduates, are working in conditions that are unhealthy, unsustainable and exploitative.
Continue reading after the break. (more…)
Unfortunately, of course, this mindset creates an anti-establishment (often, anti-architect) antagonism that would render any wide-spread change nigh impossible. Yes, the DIY movement, facilitated by the use of technology, is excellent for getting people involved, for encouraging important, innovative ideas – in the short-term.
As Alexandra Lange recently pointed out in her post “Against Kickstarter Urbanism,” technology is not a “magic wand,” and crowdsourcing initiatives often fall short in the day-to-day, nitty-gritty work of a large-scale, long-term urban project.
But while technology certainly has its limitations, its potential to facilitate connection and communication is unparalleled. What is vital, however, is that the technology enhance, not replace, our physical relationships. Instead of using online platforms as divisive or purely conceptual forums, they must becomes tools of transparency and trust-building, mediators of a conversation that invests and connects all parties on the ground.
HP, Apple, Google – they all found their success amongst the peach groves and Suburban houses of California. But why? What is it about Silicon Valley that makes it the site of technological innovation the world over?
It’s tempting to assume that the Valley’s success must be, at least in part, due to its design. But how does innovation prosper? What kind of environment does it require? In a recent interview with The Atlantic Cities, Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, suggests that creativity is sparked from casual exchanges, the mingling of diversity, the constant interaction with the strange and new. In short, and as a recent study corroborates, innovation flourishes in dense metropolises.
Seemingly then, Silicon Valley, a sprawl of highways and office parks, has become a hotspot of creativity in spite of its design. But let’s not write off design just yet.
As technology makes location more and more irrelevant, many are looking to distill the magic of Silicon Valley and transplant it elsewhere. The key will be to design environments that can recreate the Valley’s culture of collaboration. The future Valleys of the world will be microsystems of creativity that imitate and utilize the structure of the city.
Here is a video interview, produced by Active Living Network, with famed author and social activist Jane Jacobs. In 1961, Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a bold response to the city planning strategies of her time and the proposals by planners such as Robert Moses. She used her real-world experiences and observations from her own street in the West Village of New York City to comment on how people interacted in neighborhoods – which areas were busiest, safest and most conducive to living. In this video, Jacobs gives insight into how cities can bounce back from the environment created by the automobile through simple and affordable means such as “tree planting, traffic taming and community events”.
Read on for more after the break. (more…)
Chris DeHenzel is one of 2012 lucky recipients of a John K. Branner traveling fellowship, awarded by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Architecture. Throughout the year, Chris will be visiting more than 25 cities in 5 continents to research on alternatives to our resource-intensive industrial food system, represented at retail level by the corporate supermarket.
¿How could an alternative system of physical markets support an alternative food system? Chris will dispatch for ArchDaily from Latvia to Calcuta, in this new series about how to design better ways to sustainable stock hungry global cities. If you want to join him, you are welcome.
Read Chris first dispatch after the break
Suburbia has a problem. We’ve known it for a while. We’ve chosen to ignore it.
Why? Because the suburbs are difficult. And just… not sexy. We have become so enamored with our cities, with their various complexities and potential for sustainability, that the suburbs, with their single-family home and deep carbon footprint, seem a backwards architectural wasteland.
But letting the suburbs die would be a tragic, missed opportunity. As I noted in “Bursting the Bubble,” Suburbia is not just the Myth it propagates (wealthy commuters and Soccer Moms in SUVs, carelessly polluting the environment and resistant to change), but a large, growing “other”: the suburban poor, stranded and imprisoned by sprawl.
To reverse Suburbia’s built hostility to its “other” and the very Earth itself, we must re-imagine the ‘burbs as nodes of density within a well-connected network. But to make this reality, we must get the Myth’s “chosen ones” on our side, which means versing ourselves in a tricky (and political) discourse.
We cannot just be Architects; we have to be part of a community-driven movement.
Poverty and violence, boarded windows and weedy lawns, immigrants jammed “by the dozen into houses conceived for the Cleavers.” In “Can this Suburb be Saved?,” New York Magazine critic, Justin Davidson, begins by painting a bleak but realistic picture of suburbia today. It’s these conditions that are making thousands flee to cities everyday, making headlines predict the “death of sprawl.” 
Davidson makes the case, and I agree, that the suburbs and architects need each other – now, more than ever. But Davidson ends with a defeatist conclusion. He seems to say, it’s just too difficult, that, ultimately: “suburbanites like the suburbs.” There are suburbanites like these, who believe nothing’s wrong, who shudder at the word “density.” But who are they? The ones jammed “by the dozens” into single-family homes? The ones scraping to make ends meet?
Herein lies the great complication of suburbia. Its myth – of wealth, whiteness, a steady-job in the big city, and a space to call your own – keeps getting in the way of the big-picture: the thousands in need of change. If architects are to “save” the suburbs, and redesign them based on their multiple realities, they’ll have to start by separating themselves from the myth. By bursting the ‘burbs’s bubble.
Read about the Myths and Truths of Suburbia, after the break…
At this point, it’s fairly uncontroversial to say that the Earth is under siege. From us, from our resource-consuming ways, ultimately, from our thoughtlessness.
Green Design is not just a catch-phrase, but a mindset. As Architects, implementing the principles of Green Design means putting thoughtfulness back into our actions, conscientiously considering our built environment, and reversing the havoc we have wreaked on our resources.
To do that, we need to know what Green Design means, and be able to evaluate what it is and isn’t. Using Earth Day as our excuse then, let’s examine the single most influential factor on the future of Green Design: LEED.
To its credit, LEED has moved a mountain: it has taken the “mysticism” out of Green Design and made Big Business realize its financial benefits, incentivizing and legitimizing it on a grand scale.
But as LEED gains popularity, its strength becomes its weakness; it’s becoming dangerously close to creating a blind numbers game, one that, instead of inspiring innovative, forward-looking design, will freeze us in the past.
Read the 10 Pros & Cons of LEED, after the break…
You can get into Architecture for one of two reasons: good architecture or bad.
For Cameron Sinclair, the co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, it was the latter. As a kid, Sinclair would wander his rough-and-tumble South London neighborhood, contemplating how it could be improved (and creating elaborate Lego models to that effect). Instead of soaring skyscrapers or grand museums, he was inspired by buildings that “integrated your neighborhood in a way that made people feel like life was worth living.”
But that’s not Architecture. Or so he was told when he went to University.
Architecture Schools have created curriculums based on a profession that, by and large, doesn’t exist. They espouse the principles of architectural design, the history and the theory, and prepare its hopeful alumni to create the next Seagram Building or Guggenheim.
Unfortunately, however, the Recession has made perfectly clear that there isn’t much need for Guggenheims – certainly not as many as there are architects. As Scott Timberg described in his Salon piece, “The Architectural Meltdown,” thousands of thousands are leaving the academy only to enter a professional “minefield.”
So what needs to change? Our conception of what Architecture is. We need to accept that Architecture isn’t just designing – but building, creating, doing. We need to train architects who are the agents of their own creative process, who can make their visions come to life, not 50 years down the road, but now. Today.
We’ve been trained to think, to envision and design. The only thing left then, is to do.
More on the public-interest model and the future of Architecture, after the break…
“I have practised Architecture at a time when Architects were full of hope and optimism. At a time when we felt that the changes in Planning and on Architecture would change living conditions and improve the world. A time when there was great hope for the future.”
Zaha Hadid has been announced, by unanimous decision of the AJ Women in Architecture Judging Panel, as the Winner of the Jane Drew Prize “for her outstanding contribution to the status of women in architecture.”
The panel has cited Hadid’s many accomplishments (she was the first female architect to win the Pritzker Prize, designed the Sterling Prize-winning MAXXI Museum in Rome and the Guangzhou Opera House in China) as evidence that she ”has broken the glass ceiling more than anyone and is practically a household name. Her achievement is remarkable.”
However, the choice of Hadid, always a controversial figure, brings into question the aim of the Prize, and forces us to explore what is really needed to improve the state of women in Architecture today.
Read More on Hadid and the controvery surrounding the Prize after the break…