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Architecture Essays: The Latest Architecture and News

Living On the Edge: Why We’re Attracted to Places Where the Manmade Abuts the Natural

This article was originally published on Common Edge as "Living on the Edge."

I am on the edge. Not emotionally or psychologically—although this could be the case—but literally, physically, spatially, geographically. As I write this, I am sitting on the balcony of a hotel room in Miami Beach, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Behind me is the whole State of Florida and, indeed, the entire North American continent. In front of me: the boardwalk, a narrow beach, and then a lot of water—and not much else between here and Mauritania, a distance of more than 4,400 miles.

The Precarious State of the Mom-and-Pop Store

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Few businesses in the United States are regarded with more fondness than mom-and-pop retailers. There’s an “all’s right with the world” quality about owner-run shops that meet a neighborhood’s everyday needs and, through repeated face-to-face exchanges, help people feel they’re members of a mutually supportive community. And yet for a long time, mom-and-pop stores have been under stress. In the half-century after 1950, cars shifted much of United States’s retailing to unwalkable roadside strips and winnowed the ranks of neighborhood-scale mom-and-pops. In the past two decades, the burgeoning of the internet has intensified the pressure on brick-and-mortar retail, a situation worsened by the pandemic.

The Chase Residence: The History Behind One of Texas' Most Radical Houses

The following text is excerpted from John S. Chase — The Chase Residence (Tower Books, 2020) by architect and University of Texas professor David Heymann and historian and Rice University lecturer Stephen Fox. Richly illustrated with archival materials and new drawings, the book is the first devoted to Chase, who was the first Black licensed architect in Texas. The study is divided into two parts, with Heymann examining the personal, social, and architectural significance of Chase’s own Houston house and Fox describing Chase’s architectural career.

This excerpt draws on Heymann’s analysis and highlights the first incarnation of the Chase Residence (Chase substantially altered its architecture in 1968). It places great emphasis on the house’s remarkable courtyard, a modernist innovation, and a singular statement about domestic living at the time. New section, elevation, and perspective drawings prepared for the book help illustrate the ingenuity of the house’s configuration. Finally, the excerpt was selected in part to honor Drucie (Rucker) Chase, who passed away in January of 2021.

The Case for a Feeling Architecture

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

My mother is a psychologist, so our family talks a lot about emotion. More specifically, we discuss the experience of emotion, because, as she  likes to remind me and my sisters, “We don’t think our feelings—we feel them, in our bodies.” According to my mother, it’s this experience of emotion that gives our lives a sense of meaning and vitality; as a result, her work isn’t about intellectual insight or abstract theories, but rather about giving her patients a new experience of themselves in the world.

Tech, Class, Cynicism, and Pandemic Real Estate

It didn’t take long for the coronavirus pandemic to inspire both cutting-edge architectural design solutions and broad speculation about future developments in the field. Many of the realized innovations have been contracted by or marketed to the real estate sector. But as firms compete to provide pandemic comforts to rich tenants, the COVID-19 technology that directly affects working-class communities is mostly limited to restrictive measures that fail to address already-urgent residential health hazards or administrative conveniences for developers that allow them to circumvent public scrutiny. These changes had been long-planned, but they have found a new license under the pretext of coronavirus precaution. In terms of “corona grifting,” this sort of thing takes the cake.

The Religion of the City: Cars, Mass Transit and Coronavirus

Religion is a uniquely human reality. As are cities. As we emerge from our burrows of sequestration, the silent cities and places of worship will become human again, versus the present sad memory of what they once were.

We will recover from another human reality, the pandemic and when we do we will be forced to address some questions. Before this century, the automobile was once seen as the way Americans could create a new reality: a huge middle class that could control its life by using the freedom that cars gave them to go where they wanted, when they wanted, and to live where they wanted. Before this latest change of sequestration, that vision of what cars meant to our culture was changing —especially in cities.

Architecture and the Environmental Impact of Artificial Complexity

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

There is an astonishing degree of complexity, order, and beauty in the natural world. Even so, and especially within the realm of living things, nothing is more complex than it needs to be to sustain its existence. Every aspect of the system serves a purpose. If it does not, the unneeded component eventually ceases to exist in future generations. Even with these constraints of resource and energy efficiency, we find boundless beauty and harmony in the natural world. Contrast nature’s “just the right amount of complexity” to the way many architects design buildings today. While nature is only as complex as it needs to be, architects and designers add excessive and inessential complexity to their buildings and landscapes when none is warranted.

Endless “Sustainable” Growth is an Oxymoron

This article was originally published on Common Edge

In a Common Edge article, I briefly discussed a concept that I call the “Triple Bottom Lie,” which posits that more people, plus more consumption by each person, plus an economic system completely dependent on the aforementioned items, can just keep working forever, without consequences. Historically, the United States has accepted the economic shibboleth of endless growth because it reduced class conflict; a rising tide (supposedly) lifted all boats, rafts and yachts included. We are, however, approaching the limits of growth, from both a resource standpoint (we’re running out of raw materials) and a technological standpoint (our inventions are progressively less revolutionary).

Assault on a Sacred Place

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

For most people, calling a place “sacred” designates it as an important location, one usually associated with spirituality. It might be the setting for religious rituals (the sacred space of a church, synagogue, or mosque), a spot where some event described as “miraculous” has occurred (such as the reported sighting of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes, France, which became a pilgrimage site), or a place which held the body of deity (think of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built upon what is believed the be the tomb of Jesus Christ). 

The Work of Architecture in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

I attended graduate school, in geography, in Tucson, Arizona, United States, in the late 1990s. Tucson draws fame from a number of things, including its Mexican-American heritage, its chimichangas, its sky islands, and its abundant population of saguaro cacti.

Modern Architects Stink at Lying. Luckily, That’s Fixable

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Apart from dressing like an undertaker, wearing black-rimmed circular glasses, and driving Swedish cars, modern architects’ most conspicuous trait is their aesthetic honesty, which is dangerous. Sincerity leaves little room for imagination.

The Same People who Designed Prisons Also Designed Schools

According to architect and academic Frank Locker, in architectural education, we keep repeating the same formula from the 20th-century: teachers transmitting a rigid and basic knowledge that gives students, no matter their motivation, interests, or abilities, little to no direction. In this way, says Locker, we are replicating, literally, prisons, with no room for an integral, flexible, and versatile education.

"What do you think of when you're in a space with closed doors and a hallway where you can't enter without permission or a bell that tells you when you can enter and leave?" asks Locker.

"March of the 100 thousand umbrellas," protest in the context of the student marches of 2011 in Chile. Image © Rafael Edwards [Flickr CC]Lucie Aubrac School / Laurens&Loustau Architectes. Image © Stéphane ChalmeauKirkmichael Primary School / Holmes Miller. Image © Andrew Lee  Saunalahti School / VERSTAS Architects. Image © Tuomas Uusheimo + 9

What a Yeast Sachet Can Tell Us About the Cities of the Future

Stores in Santiago, Chile, ran out of yeast in mid-March, such as it happened after the beginning of the social crisis in 2019. Given that Chile has the second-highest bread consumption per capita in the world, it would seem that Chileans handle uncertainty stocking up ingredients for bread making. Everybody wants to make bread, including myself.

Dayananda Sagar College of Architecture Announces Winners of the Essays in Architecture Competition

Architectural thinking has a rich tradition of being bound to writing. Be it the vāstu śāstra, the Seven Lamps by Ruskin, or the writings of Thoreau—writing and craft have not only gone hand in hand but are synonymous. Imagination is the moment of architecture and it finds expression in writing as much, if not more, as it does in drawing. Unfortunately, the power of the pen, especially when it comes to architecture-design, remains largely underrated.

What Can Design do in Chile's Social Crisis? Nothing.

This article was originally published in ArchDaily en Español last October 30, twelve days after the social crisis in Chile escalated. Some ideas of the analysis may feel outdated since some structural reforms were recently announced, but the author decided to keep the original spirit of the piece.

A 4 cent fair increase for the Metro in Santiago sparked mass fare-dodging protests in Chile starting on October 6. Alongside spontaneous street demonstrations, the protests spilled into widespread violence across Santiago during the following days until October 18. That day, the Metro network collapsed, the riots multiplied across the city, and looting and fires were out of control. That night, President Sebastian Piñera declared a state of emergency.

Santiago during the largest march recorded in Chile last October 25, 2019. Image © Nicolás ValenciaSantiago during the largest march recorded in Chile last October 25, 2019. Image © Nicolás ValenciaPlaza Italia square, Santiago's symbolic gravity center, during the largest march recorded in Chile last October 25, 2019. Image © Nicolás ValenciaPlaza Italia square, Santiago's symbolic gravity center, during the largest march recorded in Chile last October 25, 2019. Image © Nicolás Valencia+ 5