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Martin Pedersen

Writer, Editor and Executive Director of Common Edge.

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Situationist Funhouse: Art’s Complicated Role in Redeveloping Cities

Courtesy of Stephen Zacks. ImageHovagimyan collaborated with Gordon Matta-Clark on Day’s End, in which Matta-Clark illegally cut a half-moon through the Navy Pier at the end of Gansevoort Street in 1975
Courtesy of Stephen Zacks. ImageHovagimyan collaborated with Gordon Matta-Clark on Day’s End, in which Matta-Clark illegally cut a half-moon through the Navy Pier at the end of Gansevoort Street in 1975

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

While Stephen Zacks’ new book, G.H. Hovagimyan: Situationist Funhouse, is ostensibly about the life and work of the artist, there’s an intriguing and seemingly topical subtext looming in the background: the role of art and culture on the development and redevelopment of cities. It’s a complicated and sometimes fraught issue, prone sometimes to simplistic, even binary thinking. Zacks, a friend and former colleague at Metropolis, has always had a more nuanced view of the issue. Last week I reached out to him to talk about the work of Hovagimyan, the historic lessons of 1970s New York, and why “gentrification” needs a new name.

Lee Bey Is Back on the Architecture Beat in Chicago

via WTTW
via WTTW

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

When the estimable Blair Kamin stepped down as architecture critic of the Chicago Tribune in early 2021, it left the city without a daily critic at any of the local news outlets. That sad state of affairs was partially corrected recently, when the Chicago Sun-Times announced that Lee Bey would begin a monthly architecture column. The writer, historian, photographer, and critic brings a wealth of experience to the task: he was architecture critic for the Sun-Times for five years in the late 1990s, served as deputy chief of staff for planning and design in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, directed governmental affairs at SOM, and taught at IIT. His most recent book is Southern Exposure: The Overlooked Architecture of Chicago’s South Side. Last week I talked to Bey about the new role, how the city has changed since his last stint as a critic, and the unique importance of architecture to the city.

Correcting the Record: The Women Who Changed Architecture

Photo by Kate Joyce. Courtesy of Ross Barney Architects and Princeton Architectural Press . ImageChicago Riverwalk, Ross Barney Architects, 2016
Photo by Kate Joyce. Courtesy of Ross Barney Architects and Princeton Architectural Press . ImageChicago Riverwalk, Ross Barney Architects, 2016

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

There’s a famous quote—it’s usually attributed to Winston Churchill—that goes, “History is written by the victors.” This cynical and largely erroneous belief could only be true if history was fixed, settled, static. It never is, and that’s precisely why we have historians. It might be more accurately said that history’s first draft is written by the victors. But first drafts, as any writer will tell you, are famously unreliable. So it is with architectural history. Women have played significant roles in the field since the start of the profession, but that is not how history has recorded it. A new book, The Women Who Changed Architecture (Princeton Architectural Press), a collection of more than 100 mini-biographies of important women architects, covering more than a century, hopes to take a step toward correcting that oversight. Recently, I spoke to Jan Cigliano Hartman, the editor of the volume, about creating the book, important and overlooked figures, and why this isn’t a definitive list.

Why the Drawings of Louis Kahn Still Matter

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

In an age of ebooks and web-first publishing, Louis Kahn: The Importance of a Drawing (Lars Müller Publishers) is a defiant throwback: a lavish, 500-plus-page book, very much an object befitting its subject, whose buildings had a weight, both literal and figurative, that was part of their power and appeal. Conceived and edited by Michael Merrill, the book is both a deep examination of Kahn’s creative process, as told through the medium of the hand drawing, as well as a revealing portrait of the man behind those buildings and illustrations. Merrill is an architect and educator and currently serves as director of research at the Institute for Building Typology at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany. He’s also the author of two previous books on the master architect, Louis Kahn: Drawing to Find Out and Louis Kahn: On the Thoughtful Making of Spaces.

Why the Drawings of Louis Kahn Still MatterWhy the Drawings of Louis Kahn Still MatterWhy the Drawings of Louis Kahn Still MatterWhy the Drawings of Louis Kahn Still Matter+ 6

Edward Mazria, from Architecture 2030, on What’s Next After COP26

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Most of the news coming out of the recently completed climate summit in Glasgow was disappointing. Previous summits had ended in similarly dispiriting ways, and COP26 was no exception. It acknowledged the severity of the problem and the urgency of the moment—the need to keep warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius (some scientists believe it’s already too late to prevent this)—but put off making the hard commitments necessary to actually solve the problem. At the same time, this summit did feel different. There was a sense of urgency in the Glasgow streets, and the world’s attention was undeniably focused on climate change. How this focus eventually translates into action on the political front remains an open question.

But architect Edward Mazria, executive director of Architecture 2030, believes that despite the immense obstacles facing climate activists, the building sector is on the cusp of helping change the course of the planet. He sees genuine reasons for hope and renewed effort. In the wake of the seemingly grim news out of Glasgow, I spoke with him last week about the way forward, how we’ve reached an important inflection point, why energy use tied to buildings has begun to decline globally, and the steps required to fully decarbonize the built environment.

We Must Begin Planning Now for an Inevitable Sea Level Rise

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

In this week's reprint, Martin C. Pedersen talks with John Englander, author of Moving to Higher Ground: Rising Sea Level and the Path Forward, about the “unstoppable” sea-level rise. The article explores the importance of planning for this challenge right away. In fact, "we have some time, but not all the time in the world" states John Englander.

Can Architecture Firms Become Truly Carbon Neutral?

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Martin C. Pedersen talks with Ron Rochon, managing partner at Miller Hull, about Carbon and the role of architectural firms in eliminating emissions. Discussing the EMissions Zero initiative, the current shortcomings of carbon offsets, and the way forward, the piece also questions the possibility of setting goals with the absence of an internationally, agreed-upon carbon cap.

A Visual History of New York Told Through Its Diagrams, Maps and Graphics

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Martin Pederson interviewed this week Antonis Antoniou and Steven Heller, author of Decoding Manhattan, a new book that compiles over 250 architectural maps, diagrams, and graphics of the island of Manhattan in New York City, talking about the origin story of the book, the process of research, and the collaboration.

A Visual History of New York Told Through Its Diagrams, Maps and GraphicsA Visual History of New York Told Through Its Diagrams, Maps and GraphicsA Visual History of New York Told Through Its Diagrams, Maps and GraphicsA Visual History of New York Told Through Its Diagrams, Maps and Graphics+ 8

An Optimist’s Take on AI and the Future of Architecture

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Martin C. Pedersen discusses with Frank Stasiowski, the founder and president of PSMJ Resources, his take on AI and the future of the profession. The author explains that six years ago he "interviewed Frank Stasiowski, the founder and president of PSMJ Resources, a management consulting firm that specializes in architecture, engineering, and construction firms. In addition to advising firms on strategic and growth planning, leadership and succession plans, mergers and acquisitions, and a host of other issues, Stasiowski spends a lot of his time analyzing where the industry is likely to evolve in the future, especially as technology takes an increasingly important role". Finding him one of the keenest observers of the industry, Pedersen talked to Stasiowski to get his opinion on AI and the future of the architectural profession.

Nathaniel Rich on Remaking Nature and Living with Uncertainty

This article was originally published on Common Edge

Two years ago, Nathaniel Rich published Losing Earth, his account of the pivotal decade from 1979 to 1989 when the political consensus around climate change somewhat miraculously formed and then collapsed, hardening into an impasse that’s now more than three decades old. Though not explicitly a sequel, Rich’s new book, Second Nature: Scenes From a World Remade, is a follow-up of sorts.

Richard Saul Wurman: “There’s a Louis Kahn Cult, and I’m a Member!”

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Dan Klyn, who teaches information architecture at the University of Michigan, is currently researching and writing a biography entitled Richard Saul Wurman’s 5 Lives. It’s an apt title, since the intellectually peripatetic Wurman has had several career incarnations: architect, author, publisher, designer, painter, sculptor, impresario (he created and thoroughly curated the early TED talks). “In a sense, I’m an amateur, a dilettante, I don’t do anything particularly well, but I see patterns between things,” he said to me in a recent interview, although his modesty here seems somewhat false: Wurman is a member of the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame; an AIA Fellow; has written, designed, and published more than 100 books; won a lifetime achievement award from the Cooper Hewitt; and is the recipient of the AIGA Gold Medal.

Roberta Brandes Gratz: "Joan Davidson Showed How Little It Sometimes Took To Get Big Things Started"

This article was originally published on Common Edge as "Joan K. Davidson and the Fight for New York."

As income inequality has widened in recent years, the role of philanthropy has been called into question. Is charitable giving by wealthy individuals and powerful corporations always a positive force, or is that connection to wealth and power an inevitable compromise? Whose agenda does philanthropic giving really benefit, the grantees or the granters? These are complicated questions. But truly enlightened giving is a transformative force. It can not only fund worthy causes but if properly timed can sow the seeds of social change.

Kate Wagner: "The Age of the Architecture Critic as Galvanizing Force Is Over. It’s Done"

This article was originally published on Common Edge as "Kate Wagner on McMansion Hell, Criticism, and Her Love of Cycling."

Contrary to movie myth, there is no such thing as an overnight sensation. The moment when a cultural presence bursts upon the scene, seemingly fully formed, is almost always preceded by unwitnessed years of DIY training and single-minded obsession. Such is the case for Kate Wagner, who broke the architectural internet in 2016 with the introduction of McMansion Hell, a sharp and hilarious skewering of the bloated American home, in all its garish and desperate striving. A year later, the real estate listing site Zillow served the then-23-year-old Wagner with a cease-and-desist letter, claiming that her use of photographs violated copyright (even though they didn’t own the photographs either!). It was a clumsy move, resulting in an eventual corporate about-face and scads of free publicity for McMansion Hell.

Harriet Pattison on the Creative Process of Louis Kahn and Making History

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Nathaniel Kahn’s 2003 documentary, My Architect, was at its beating heart a son’s search for his father. The film, which was nominated for an Academy Award and will be re-released later this year, explored the complicated domestic life of Louis Kahn: three children, by three different partners, all of whom were kept largely in the dark about the existence of each other. But the film was as much about the work of Louis Kahn as it was about his personal life. And, as a result, it ignited a renewed interest in his buildings, both in the mainstream culture and across architectural academia.

When It Comes to Climate Crisis, Traditional Practice Is Broken

This article was originally published on Common Edge as "When It Comes to Climate Change, Traditional Practice Is Broken."

Sustainable design in the United States is for many a sort of Rorschach test. The construction industry is either making steady progress toward the ultimate goal of a carbon-free building sector, or it’s moving entirely too slowly, missing key targets as the ecological clock keeps ticking. The perplexing truth to all of this is: both are ostensibly true. In recent decades the industry has become significantly more energy efficient. We’ve added building stock but flattened the energy curve. The cost of renewables continues to drop. But way more is required, much more quickly. At the same time, huge hurdles remain. Without a renewable grid and stringent energy codes, it’s hard to see how we can fully decarbonize the building sector in even 20 years, let alone at the timeline suggested by increasingly worried climate scientists. It’s the classic good news/bad news scenario (or vice-versa, depending on your mood).

Blair Kamin: "You Judge the Architecture, Not the Architect"

This article was originally published on Common Edge as "Blair Kamin Ends His Run as Architecture Critic of the Chicago Tribune"

Last Friday, January 15, Blair Kamin ended his 28-year run as architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune. I have known and admired Kamin for almost two decades. His writing on architecture and the built environment was sharp and lucid; he was not afraid to offend the less than delicate sensibilities of those in power.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 1999, Kamin was an activist critic, very much in the tradition of Ada Louise Huxtable and Allan Temko. Late last week, I reached out to Kamin to talk about the role of critics, and the end of his singular run.

Christopher Hawthorne on Low-Rise: Housing Ideas for Los Angeles

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Low-Rise: Housing Ideas for Los Angeles is the latest initiative spearheaded by Christopher Hawthorne, the Chief Design Officer for the City of Los Angeles. Since leaving his post as architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times in March 2018, Hawthorne has carved out a unique and surprisingly wide ranging role at City Hall. Recently I reached out to him to talk about his two-plus years in government, the latest “ideas” challenge (as he describes Low-Rise), and other issues facing Los Angeles.

What We Can (and Can’t) Learn from Copenhagen

This article was originally published on Common Edge

I spent four glorious days in Copenhagen in 2017 and left with an acute case of urban envy. (I kept thinking: It’s like..an American Portland—except better.) Why can’t we do cities like this in the United States? That’s the question an urban nerd like me asks while strolling the famously pedestrian-friendly streets, as hordes of impossibly blond and fit Danes bicycle briskly past.