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Common Edge: The Latest Architecture and News

Restoring the Physical Nature of Design

04:00 - 12 July, 2019
Restoring the Physical Nature of Design, © William Cho
© William Cho

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

As the architecture and interior design professions have advanced through the centuries, so too have their tools, from drawing on parchment in the Middle Ages to drafting on vellum with graphite in the 20th century. Today, tools like Revit and numerous 3D-modeling programs allow users to create an image of a design more quickly than ever before; in some cases, programs even generate elevations and details. Digital imagery of finish materials and 3D-block libraries of furniture and fixtures allow us to create an entire project without any tactile interaction with the items or finishes specified. But these tools, and the instant gratification offered by them, raise critical questions: Are architects and interior designers losing the physical aspect of design? Has our relationship with the physical qualities of design been watered down because we no longer have to draw a chair or bathtub, but can simply download them, thereby losing the intimacy of working out the details ourselves? 

It’s Time to End the Reign of Single-Family House Zoning

07:00 - 4 July, 2019
It’s Time to End the Reign of Single-Family House Zoning, An aerial view of housing developments near Markham, Ontario. Image © IDuke, November 2005
An aerial view of housing developments near Markham, Ontario. Image © IDuke, November 2005

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Practicing architects live and die by zoning regulations. We begin routine projects by reading ordinances and calling local officials to reassure clients that their desired outcomes will be possible under current land-use laws. If we’re lucky, the project will be built without troublesome variances and hearings before stony-faced zoning boards. Increasingly, however, what seemed straightforward and responsible 15 years ago is today considered controversial enough to merit a public hearing, and perhaps the assistance of high-priced attorneys. Often, the issue is protecting the “rights” of nearby homeowners, who see their property values threatened by any new development.

Opinion: In Architecture, Silence Is Anything But Golden

05:30 - 28 June, 2019
Opinion: In Architecture, Silence Is Anything But Golden, © Weebly
© Weebly

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Architects compete, and the internet provides unlimited opportunities for competition among all who wish to offer up something for consideration. None of this is news. But there’s been a change in both the expectations and the etiquette around all of those offerings.

Earlier this month, I was asked to submit to two small competitions. I had completed successful projects that matched each competition’s focus, so I dove in. We confirmed that our entries met the criteria and deadlines; we knew the day of jury deliberations and the release date of their decision. As usual, we lost (success only comes for those willing to accept failure); also, as usual, the verdict for us and for all other runners up was silence.

Thomas Fisher on The Ethics of Architecture and Other Contradictions

04:00 - 21 June, 2019
Thomas Fisher on The Ethics of Architecture and Other Contradictions, © Thomas Hawk/Flickr
© Thomas Hawk/Flickr

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

Why don’t architects often consider the ethics of what they do? Thomas Fisher’s new book, The Architecture of Ethics, digs into this topic in great depth and with engaging insight. At the recent AIA convention in Las Vegas, I sat down with Fisher—former dean of the University of Minnesota College of Design, and now a professor in urban design at the school, as well as director of the Minnesota Design Center—to talk about his book and the ethical dimension of designing and building in the context of contemporary practice.

Hudson Yards and Notre-Dame: A One-Two Punch of Megalomania

07:00 - 7 June, 2019
Hudson Yards and Notre-Dame: A One-Two Punch of Megalomania, Hudson Yards. Image © Related-Oxford
Hudson Yards. Image © Related-Oxford

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

In recent months, two events have done more harm to the “brand” of architecture in the public’s perception than anything I’ve experienced in the 40 years that I have been in the profession.

First, there was the grand opening of New York City’s Hudson Yards, a massive $20 billion development on Manhattan’s far west side. This first phase opened after seven years of construction and included an obligatory gathering of “world class” architects—Kohn Pedersen Fox, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, SOM, The Rockwell Group—as well a folly by designer Thomas Heatherwick.

What could possibly go wrong?

Paul Goldberger on Ballpark: Baseball in the American City

08:00 - 19 May, 2019
Paul Goldberger on Ballpark: Baseball in the American City, Orioles Park at Camden Yards by Bob Busser
Orioles Park at Camden Yards by Bob Busser

This article was originally published on Common Edge.

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.

Notre-Dame and the Questions It Raises About Sacred Space

06:30 - 28 April, 2019
© Flickr user la_bretagne_a_paris licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
© Flickr user la_bretagne_a_paris licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This article was originally published on CommonEdge as "Notre-Dame and the Questions It Raises About Sacred Space."

What We Can Learn About Public Space From Cuba

10:00 - 12 April, 2019
What We Can Learn About Public Space From Cuba, © Sam Valentine
© Sam Valentine

This article was originally published on CommonEdge as "What Landscape Architects and Urban Designers Can Learn About Public Space From Cuba."

It was certainly what I had come for: I was sitting on broad, cobbled steps, watching people interact in the public realm. It was an August afternoon in Cuba, and I had found temporary respite from the harsh sun beneath a haphazard array of trees. My design work as a landscape architect focuses on urban parks, streetscapes, and academic campuses, and I wanted to see how differently the open spaces of Cuba might function.

Anne Taylor on How Design Education Can Transform Our Schools

12:00 - 7 April, 2019
Anne Taylor on How Design Education Can Transform Our Schools, © School Zone Institute
© School Zone Institute

This article was originally published on CommonEdge as "How Design Education Can Transform Our Schools".

Opinion: Women in Architecture Need a New Set of Role Models—Beyond the Star System

08:00 - 23 March, 2019
Sesc Pompéia / Lina Bo Bardi. Image © Nelson Kon
Sesc Pompéia / Lina Bo Bardi. Image © Nelson Kon

This article was originally published on CommonEdge as "Women in Architecture Need a New Set of Role Models—Beyond the Star System"

When the Best Laid Plans Go Awry: What Went Wrong with New Orleans' Make It Right Homes?

07:00 - 12 March, 2019
When the Best Laid Plans Go Awry: What Went Wrong with New Orleans' Make It Right Homes?, Make It Right homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans. Used under Creative Commons. Image © Flickr user drewzhrodague licensed under CC BY 2.0
Make It Right homes in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans. Used under Creative Commons. Image © Flickr user drewzhrodague licensed under CC BY 2.0

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.

Amazon's False Flag Urban Mission: What the HQ2 Debacle is Really About

14:00 - 2 March, 2019
Amazon's False Flag Urban Mission: What the HQ2 Debacle is Really About, The Amazon Headquarters in Seattle, WA. Photo by Flickr user Evan Chakroff. ImageAmazon HQ / NBBJ
The Amazon Headquarters in Seattle, WA. Photo by Flickr user Evan Chakroff. ImageAmazon HQ / NBBJ

This article was originally published on CommonEdge as "An Amazon Correction: The City Won – and the Company isn't Going Anywhere."

The Amazon brouhaha needs clarification: the company is not “pulling out of New York.” It’s simply canceling the construction of a physical campus in Long Island City, the fastest growing neighborhood in the city for almost a decade. The fate of that neighborhood reflects the outsize development trend of the larger city and the erroneous assumption that construction means growth. But let’s leave the bigger picture aside for the moment.

What is Beauty in Architecture Today - and Are We Afraid of it?

07:00 - 22 February, 2019
What is Beauty in Architecture Today - and Are We Afraid of it?, Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi. ImageImage via Wikimedia
Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi. ImageImage via Wikimedia

This article was originally published on CommonEdge as "The 'B' Word: How a More Universal Concept of Beauty Can Reshape Architecture."

What Urbanism Needs to Learn from Dubai

07:00 - 11 February, 2019
What Urbanism Needs to Learn from Dubai , Photo by Flickr user Lars Plougmann
Photo by Flickr user Lars Plougmann

In the past three decades, Dubai has grown from a dusty desert town to a strategic hub for international business and tourism. As a result, several cities in the developing world have been competing to outdo one another in the race to replicate this development model—an urbanism largely built around the automobile, luxury villas, gleaming skyscrapers, massive shopping malls, and ambitious “smart” cities, designed and built from scratch. Across Africa, these new developments go by different names: Eko Atlantic City Nigeria, Vision City in Rwanda, Ebene Cyber City in Mauritius; Konza Technology City in Kenya; Safari City in Tanzania; Le Cite du Fleuve in DR Congo, and several others. All are mimicries of Dubai.

Why Reusing Buildings Should - and Must - be the Next Big Thing

08:00 - 22 January, 2019
Why Reusing Buildings Should - and Must - be the Next Big Thing, LocHal / Mecanoo. Image © Ossip van Duivenbode
LocHal / Mecanoo. Image © Ossip van Duivenbode

Sustainability awards and standards touted by professional architecture organizations often stop at opening day, failing to take into account the day-to-day energy use of a building. With the current format unlikely to change, how can we rethink the way what sustainability means in architecture today? The first step might be to stop rewarding purpose-built architecture, and look instead to the buildings we already have. This article was originally published on CommonEdge as"Why Reusing Buildings Should be the Next Big Thing."

At the inaugural Rio Conference on the Global Environment in 1992, three facts became abundantly clear: the earth was indeed warming; fossil fuels were no longer a viable source of energy; the built environment would have to adapt to this new reality. That year I published an essay in the Journal of Architectural Education called “Architecture for a Contingent Environment” suggesting that architects join with both naturalists and preservationists to confront this situation.

Why Do Architects Still Struggle with Disability Requirements?

07:00 - 8 January, 2019
Why Do Architects Still Struggle with Disability Requirements? , © Hufton + Crow. ImageStaircases such as this one, in ZHA's Dominion Office Building, are beautiful design elements but can pose challenges to those with limited mobility.
© Hufton + Crow. ImageStaircases such as this one, in ZHA's Dominion Office Building, are beautiful design elements but can pose challenges to those with limited mobility.

This article was originally published on Common Edge as " Why Architects Still Struggle With Disability Requirements 28 Years After Passage of the ADA".

The recent death of President George H.W. Bush occasioned assessments of his administration’s legislative achievements, one of which was the far-ranging Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights act signed into law in 1990. The law included accommodations for people with disabilities in buildings. In the ensuing decades the ADA has had a significant impact on the design and construction of the built environment in the U.S. To gauge the impact of ADA, how it has evolved, common misconceptions about ADA, and its role in promoting social equity in architecture, I spoke with Peter Stratton, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Accessibility Services at Steven Winter Associates, who works with architects and others in the construction industry on the application of the ADA design standards. (I worked at the Connecticut-based Winter firm between 1996 and 2006; Stratton was a colleague.)

Architecture without Architects: The Cut-Paste Typology Taking Over America

09:30 - 11 December, 2018
Architecture without Architects: The Cut-Paste Typology Taking Over America, Tejon 35 / Meridian 105 Architecture. Image © Raul Garcia
Tejon 35 / Meridian 105 Architecture. Image © Raul Garcia

This article was originally published on CommonEdge as "When Buildings Are Shaped More by Code than by Architects."

Architects are often driven by forces which are stronger than aesthetics or even client whims and desires. To some extent we’re captive to the tools and materials we use, and the legal limitations placed on us as architects. Today a new code definition has changed one type of building in all of the ways architects usually control.

How to Judge a Building: Does it Make you Feel More, Or Less Alive?

09:30 - 7 December, 2018
How to Judge a Building: Does it Make you Feel More, Or Less Alive? , via Wikimedia. ImageSelgas Cano's Pavilion at the 2018 Brugge Triennale
via Wikimedia. ImageSelgas Cano's Pavilion at the 2018 Brugge Triennale

This extract was originally published on Common Edge as "The Legacy of Christopher Alexander: Criteria for an Intelligent Architecture."

In his monumental four-volume book, The Nature of Order, Christopher Alexander talks about an intelligent architecture, responsive to human needs and sensibilities through adaptation to existing buildings and nature. This is a new way of viewing the world—a way of connecting to it, and to ourselves—yet it is very much the same as the most ancient ways of connecting.