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Martin Pedersen

Writer, Editor and Executive Director of Common Edge.


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.

Tony Millionaire, Harlem Renaissance: 100 Years of History, Art and Culture, 2001. Concept by Marc H. Miller and Kevin Hein.. Image Courtesy of Decoding ManhattanAlbert Berghaus, The Tenement Houses of New York, from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, July 1, 1865.. Image Courtesy of Decoding ManhattanRenzo Picasso - New York Subway - stazioni e vedute prospettica - tav. 12, 1929.. Image Courtesy of Decoding ManhattanAlbert Levering, The Future of Trinity Church, from Puck, March 6, 1907. Courtesy Library of Congress.. Image Courtesy of Decoding Manhattan+ 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.

Reflecting on the African American Experience at the Harvard GSD

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

In the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police, the United States erupted in protests and demonstrations. The fervor generated by that event reached the world of architecture education a couple of weeks later, when two groups at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD)—the African American Student Union (AASU) and AfricaGSD—posted a public statement, Notes on Credibility, calling for reforms at the school. Four days later, Dean Sarah M. Whiting posted a response, Towards a New GSD. Shortly after, I reached out to the groups, and they put me in touch with two of their members: Caleb Negash, a second-year student in the MArch program, and Andrew Mbuthia Ngure, a third-year student in the same program.

Edward Mazria With Some Good News About Combating Climate Change

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

The news about real action on climate change tends to track toward the gloomy. It is easy to despair, given the severity of the problem and the time left to properly address it. But there is progress being made in the built environment—just not nearly fast enough to offset emissions elsewhere. In recent years the sector has added billions of square feet of new buildings, but seen energy consumption for the entire sector actually decline. A good chunk of the credit for that accomplishment can go to architect Edward Mazria and his dogged advocacy organization, Architecture2030. Mazria and his team, along with collaborators all over the world, keep doing the unglamorous work of revising building codes, working with mayors, governors, elected officials in Washington (and officials in China), forging new alliances, all while deftly working around the climate obstructionists currently occupying the White House. Recently I talked to Mazria, who spoke from his home in New Mexico, about his take on where we stand. Some of the news, alas, is pretty good.

Bryan C. Lee on Design Justice and Architecture’s Role in Systemic Racism

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

In the rage, furor, and sorrow that followed the murder of George Floyd, one voice in the architecture community managed to put the nation’s centuries-overdue reckoning with race into the larger context of the built environment. Earlier this month, CityLab published architect Bryan C. Lee Jr.’s essay “America’s Cities Were Designed to Oppress,” an impassioned polemic on design and race that also had the great virtue of offering up specific solutions.

Lee is the founder and design principal of Colloqate, a New Orleans–based design and public advocacy firm that was named an Emerging Voice in 2019 by the Architectural League of New York. Colloqate led the Paper Monuments project in 2017, a public art and public history campaign that was launched in conjunction with the successful fight to remove the Confederate statues in New Orleans. In addition to its advocacy work, the firm is currently working on architectural projects in Portland, Toronto, and New Orleans. Last week I talked with Lee about his essay, the charged moment that we’re in, and where the nation goes from here.

Paul Goldberger on Architecture, Cities, and New York’s Long Road Back

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen an explosion of internet speculation about the “future of cities.” Apparently, they are either doomed—or destined to prevail. The office is dead (obviously), the office tower (especially tall ones) clearly a building type in need of a proper funeral. All kinds of chatter have subsequently ensued (we have time on our hands) about the dire outlook for public space, the impending collapse of public transportation, the inevitable return to the suburbs, even the (gasp!) demise of the luxury cruise ship. We’ll see; we’re still wandering around in the dark here and might be for some time. With that somber thought in mind, I reached out to Paul Goldberger, Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic and urbanist, for what I felt certain would be a nuanced and measured take on our presently fraught moment. (A note: we spoke prior to the protests, which have erupted in American cities in response to the murder of George Floyd.) For the most part, we resisted the urge to make sweeping and almost certainly premature predictions about our urban future.

Edgar Jerins: Photographing the Locked-Down City of New York

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

New York City: locked down, empty. It was heartbreaking, of course, but it was also beautiful. For artist Edgar Jerins, that revelation was something of a surprise. Who knew this bustling, chaotic, dirty, vibrant, profane, amazing city could look so … gorgeous when stripped of people and activity? For years, Jerins rode the subway to his studio near Times Square. When news of the spreading pandemic first surfaced—more as a vague, undefined threat, initially—he fled out of fear to the bus, and then, after the severity of the event became apparent and the lockdown began, he borrowed his daughter’s bicycle.

Dear Governor Newsom: Be a Climate Hero. Adopt the Zero Code Now.

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

To its great credit, the American Institute of Architects recently denounced the Trump administration’s decision to formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. This may put the professional organization on the right side of history, but it’s unlikely to sway any hardened hearts and minds in Washington. Obviously, the executive branch is worse than useless on this issue: not just an impediment to change, but a malevolent force for willful inaction. It’s hard to see it as anything less than an enemy of the climate.