Paul Goldberger has a new book out, released just this week, entitled Ballpark: Baseball in the American City. Taking a page from the Ken Burns playbook, the book looks at a particularly American building type as a lens for looking at the broader culture of cities. Goldberger’s premise is a good one: Ballparks do parallel, to a remarkable degree, trends in American urbanism. They start as an escape from the city, then the city builds up around them. Post–World War II, they escape to the suburbs, then decades later return to the city. Today, privatization of the public realm and real estate development are driving the agenda. Recently I talked with Goldberger about the new book and a whole slew of magical ballparks, both living and long gone.
This article was originally published on CommonEdge as "Rob Walker on the Mistakes of Brad Pitt's Make it Right."
I will start with a confession: I was part of the fawning media swarm that lauded and applauded the accomplishments of Make It Right, Brad Pitt’s bold attempt to rebuild a portion of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans. The project was, it seemed once, one of the few post-Katrina success stories coming out of that flood-ravaged community.
Philip Johnson lived a long and extraordinarily eventful life. He was an architect, a museum curator, a tastemaker, a kingmaker, a schemer, an exceptionally vivid cultural presence. Mark Lamster, architecture critic of the Dallas Morning News and Harvard Loeb Fellowship recipient, has now written a thoroughly engaging biography of him entitled, Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century: The Man in the Glass House. I talked to Lamster two weeks ago about the book and the bundle of contradictions that was Philip Johnson.
Six years ago Susan Szenasy and I had the honor of interviewing Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer for Metropolismagazine. While he was a federal appeals judge in Boston, Breyer played a key role in shepherding the design and construction of the John Joseph Moakley United State Courthouse, designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners. In 2011 Justice Breyer joined the jury of the Pritzker Prize. Given his long involvement with architecture, I thought it would be fun to catch up with him. So, on the final day of court before breaking for the summer recess, I talked to Justice Breyer about his experience as a design client, how to create good government buildings, and why public architecture matters.
John King has covered the urban design beat for the San Francisco Chronicle for 17 years now. That’s long enough, in other words, to have written about a handful of economic booms and subsequent busts. But the Bay Area is a unique beast. No other region in the country has been as thoroughly transformed by the digital revolution. And it’s a transformation that continues to this day. Shortly before the New Year, I spoke to King about the fate of San Francisco, the Oakland renaissance, and his 4-month long fellowship in Washington, DC.
Jane Jacobs was arguably the most important “citizen” planner in the 20th century. If we were setting up a related category for credentialed planners, then the great Danish urbanist Jan Gehl might just top that list; inspired by the ideas of Jacobs, the architect and urban designer has spent nearly a half-century studying and writing about public space. He helped his home city of Copenhagen become a kind of model for walkable urbanism and has consulted for cities all over the world.
Two and a half years ago his firm, Gehl, launched a nonprofit arm, Gehl Institute, dedicated to public engagement, and the use and creation of public urban space as a tool of both economic development and political equity. Recently the institute published what it describes as “tools for measuring public space and public life, in the form of free, downloadable worksheets.” The toolkit is beautifully executed. Last week I talked to Shin-pei Tsay, executive director of the Gehl Institute, about the tools and what her group hopes to accomplish with them.
Recently we’ve written a fair amount about the state of architectural research. The general consensus appears to be that it lacks rigor and, even more importantly, is not grounded in good science. Steven J Orfield has some strong opinions about architectural research. He’s been conducting it—for architecture and design firms, as well as Fortune 500 companies—at his Minneapolis-based Orfield Laboratories for more than three decades now. Late last week I talked to him about why architects are afraid of science, how he would introduce it into the schools, and his work in the field of universal design.
Jan Gehl, the great Danish urbanist, has much in common with Jane Jacobs. For the better part of a half-century now, his focus has been on the development of people-oriented cities. The author of a number of books, including Life Between Buildings, Cities for People, Public Spaces—Public Life, and most recently, How to Study Public Life, Gehl and his colleagues have also served as consultants for the cities of Copenhagen, London, Melbourne, Sydney, New York and Moscow. Gehl Architects currently has offices in Copenhagen, New York and San Francisco. I spoke to Gehl about Jacobs, the folly of modernist city planning, and New York City’s durable urban form.
Last week I was in the middle of packing and came across a well-thumbed copy of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. I don’t remember when I read the book, but it was way more than twenty years ago (and predates my professional involvement with cities). As a very belated tribute to the anniversary of her 100th birthday, I decided to dip back into that remarkable book. Here’s ten takeaways from the godmother of the American city.
Sarah Williams Goldhagen has taken a big swing. Her new book, Welcome to Your World: How the Built Environment Shapes Our Lives, is nothing less than a meticulously constructed argument for completely rethinking our way of looking at architecture. A longtime critic for The New Republic and a former lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Goldhagen has taken a deep dive into the rapidly advancing field of cognitive science, in an attempt to link it to a new human-centered approach to the built world. The book is both an examination of the science behind cognition (and its relevance to architecture), and a polemic against the stultifying status quo. Recently I talked to the author, who was busy preparing for a year-long trip around the world, about the book, the science, and the state of architectural education.
I spent four glorious days in Copenhagen recently 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 US? 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.
Copenhagen is one of the most civilized cities on the planet. The world’s “most livable,” it’s often called, with some justification. (Although a Danish relative did caution me, “Spend a few weeks here in January before you make that pronouncement.”) But the seemingly effortless civility, Copenhagen’s amazing level of grace, is not an accident of place or happenstance. It’s the product of a shared belief that transcends urban design, even though the city is a veritable laboratory for pretty much all of the best practices in the field.
Zaha Hadid set off a mini-shitstorm [the other day] when she declared that architects have “nothing to do with the workers” who have died on construction sites in Qatar, site of the World Cup in 2022. The Guardian had reported that nearly 900 workers had died in the past two years building the infrastructure required for the massive event. One of the projects under construction is Hadid’s Al-Wakrah stadium (above), a swoopy, curvilinear 40,000 seat facility that some critics likened to a vagina when the scheme was unveiled to the public. “It’s not my duty as an architect to look at it,” Hadid said, on the worker deaths. “I cannot do anything about it because I have no power to do anything about it. I think it’s a problem anywhere in the world. But, as I said, I think there are discrepancies all over the world.”
Her tone-deaf comments elicited a firestorm of predictable outrage, but I’d contend they had a near-truth about them. As I see it, Hadid had four possible courses of action, all of them limited in scope.
In this interview, originally published in Metropolis Magazine as "The Charms of Suburbia", Martin Pedersen interviews Robert A.M. Stern about his new book, "Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City". Pedersen's interview delves into the history behind the Garden Suburb - a typology that is distinct from the stereotype of suburban sprawl.
Robert A.M. Stern is nothing if not counterintuitive. How else do you explain—in an increasingly digital and urban-centric world—his recently released book, a 1,072-page tome, containing more than 3,000 images, on the history of the garden suburb? Paradise Planned: The Garden Suburb and the Modern City (the Monacelli Press, 2013) was written with longtime, in-house collaborators David Fishman and Jacob Tilove, who also worked with Stern on the ﬁfth volume of the architect’s epic New York series.
Paradise Planned is similarly expansive. “The book grew like Topsy,” Stern says. “We’d think we had all the examples down, and a new one would pop up. So it just got bigger and bigger. And I thought: if we’re going to do this book, we really ought to do it as the deﬁnitive text. Now, it’s not forever text. People will always be adding things. But this is a pretty comprehensive view.” I recently talked to Stern about his new book, the folly of “landscape urbanism,” and the lessons learned from the garden suburb.
With all the controversy surrounding Diller Scofidio +Renfro (DSR) and MoMA's decision to demolish the American Folk Art Museum to make way for expansion, DS+R has increasingly come under fire (indeed, even DS+R's democratizing move to make the MoMA's sculpture garden accessible to the public has provoked considerable ire). In the following article, which originally appeared on Metropolis as "Damage Control," critic and author Martin Pedersen questions: why didn't DS+R just walk away?
A few weeks ago, in the wake of MoMA’s decision to raze the Folk Art Museum, the estimable Christopher Hawthorne of the Los Angeles Times asked ; why Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DSR) didn’t simply resign the commission, rather than recommend the demolition of a building designed by their (former?) friends. At the time, I was skeptical of the suggestion. But with the onslaught of negative publicity—which will continue up until the demolition of the building and perhaps well beyond—I’m beginning to think Hawthorne was right. And right not just from a moral, ethical and historic perspective.