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Common Edge

Growing Up in a Glass House: What Is it Like to Be the Daughter of an Uncompromising Modernist Architect?

09:30 - 19 April, 2018
Growing Up in a Glass House: What Is it Like to Be the Daughter of an Uncompromising Modernist Architect?, Courtesy of Elizabeth W Garber
Courtesy of Elizabeth W Garber

This article was originally published on Common Edge as "Growing Up in a Glass House: An Architect’s Daughter Explores Modernism’s Shadow."

Elizabeth W Garber’s new book, Implosion: A Memoir of an Architect’s Daughter (She Writes Press), tells the story of growing up in a glass house, designed by her father, Woodie Garber, once called “Cincinnati’s most extreme, experimental, and creative Modernist architect.” The memoir, which will be released in June, focuses on a family caught in a collision between modern architecture, radical social change, and madness in the turbulent 1960s in Cincinnati. Recently I talked to Garber about the book, the strictures of Modernism, and why she couldn’t live in a glass house today.

Why We Shouldn't Build a Memorial for the Grenfell Fire—Not Yet At Least

04:00 - 18 April, 2018
Why We Shouldn't Build a Memorial for the Grenfell Fire—Not Yet At Least , The burned remains of Grenfell Tower in London. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/londonmatt/35651730645'>Flickr user londonmatt</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>
The burned remains of Grenfell Tower in London. Image © Flickr user londonmatt licensed under CC BY 2.0

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "Why the Best Response to the Grenfell Tower Fire Isn’t a Memorial."

Memorials play an integral role in marking significant people, moments, or events. In recent years, they have become glorifications of tragedy by attempting to express unimaginable horrors in poetic and beautiful ways. The issue with the many forms that memorials take is that they seek to placate the immediate reaction and hurt of an event, an understandable societal reaction, but one that often feels rote and hallow.

But what if memorials sought to preserve the memory of those affected by offering a solution that addressed how the tragedy occurred? The international response to tragedy has, by default, become to install a statue, build a wall, create a healing water feature, erect an aspirational sculptural object, or simply rename a park. None of these responses are inherently bad—they’re usually well-meaning and on occasion quite moving—but there is another approach available to us: changing the public perception of memorials by looking at them through the lens of solutions, encouraging people to think of them as a testament or proper response to tragedy, not just a plaque that over time goes unnoticed. While this approach might be difficult in some instances, the case of Grenfell Tower fire in London presents a rather obvious solution.

Why Designing a Person's Home is the Most Challenging, Thrilling Task an Architect Can Face

09:30 - 3 April, 2018
Why Designing a Person's Home is the Most Challenging, Thrilling Task an Architect Can Face, <a href='https://www.archdaily.com/874409/caring-wood-macdonald-wright-architects'>Caring Wood / James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell</a>. Image © James Morris
Caring Wood / James Macdonald Wright and Niall Maxwell. Image © James Morris

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "Why Homes Are the Original Architecture."

Homes may be the most powerful projection of architectural value. Because shelter is essential for all of us, the home is architecture’s universal function. We’re all experts on what our own home must be, to us.

But architects often have a different view of home. Twenty years ago—during the recession before the last recession—I remember hearing an architect declare that he could earn a living designing houses until “real work came along.” Another architectural meme is the classic first job: designing a house for your parents.

Awareness of the Importance of Public Spaces is Increasing—Here's How We Can Capitalize On It

09:30 - 21 March, 2018
Awareness of the Importance of Public Spaces is Increasing—Here's How We Can Capitalize On It, Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/liakadaweb/38621551301/'>Flickr user liakadaweb</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>
Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy. Image © Flickr user liakadaweb licensed under CC BY 2.0

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "How Public Space Can Build Community and Rescue Democracy."

Public spaces are having a moment. People from outside the field of urban planning are beginning to notice the vital contributions that they make to our quality of life: inserting nature and cultural memory into the everyday, reminding us of our collective responsibilities, supporting democratic expression. People are also beginning to notice the subtle ways in which those contributions are being eroded by threats of privatization, corporate appropriation, and apathy.

Most acutely, this moment is brought to us by Apple, which has begun an aggressive retail rebranding effort to re-conceptualize its stores as “town squares,” and wrought a wave of well-founded concern. Technology continues to beckon us away from the need to leave our homes or interact face-to-face with other humans. If for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, it would follow that opportunities for such interpersonal interaction become a luxury we begin to seek, a call to remember our origin as social beings.

Gentrification, Alienation, and Homelessness: What Really Happens When Amazon Moves to Town?

09:30 - 6 March, 2018
© <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/sounderbruce/28364849979/'>Flickr user sounderbruce</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>
© Flickr user sounderbruce licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "A Seattleite Reflects on the City in the Age of Amazon."

At first, it was just a crane or two, a little urban renewal down on Westlake, a rumor that Paul Allen was cleaning things up, wanted a huge park with bike trails. I thought that might be nice and didn’t think about it again for a while.

No park happened, but one day I went down to the new Whole Foods below where I work and noticed that a whole habitat had sprung up on Westlake, an expensive Mexican chain restaurant and an expensive Italian place and an expensive Thai place, and some expensive after-work bars. I also noticed small groups of men, all white or Indian and all wearing lanyards. These groups moved around the streets, talking animatedly, freshly out of their cubicles and going to lunch, oblivious to whomever else was on the street.

The Beautiful Drawings of Michelangelo Show Us Why Architects Should Be Polymaths, Not Specialists

09:30 - 27 February, 2018
The Beautiful Drawings of Michelangelo Show Us Why Architects Should Be Polymaths, Not Specialists, © Duo Dickinson
© Duo Dickinson

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "Michelangelo’s Lesson: Specialization in Architecture is Not The Only Way."

A recent exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum in New York, Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman & Designer, provided a thrilling glimpse into the mind and methods of a true polymath. The exhibit has just closed, so I offer this selection of images. Photography was encouraged, and the intimacy of the presentation allowed insights and realizations.

I’ve been studying or practicing architecture for 45 years, and the exhibit clarified how architects can think about what they do. It probably meant similar things to everyone feeling its resonant beauty, but I saw the complexities of a creative life in mid-application.

Why African Vernacular Architecture Is Overdue for a Renaissance

09:30 - 20 February, 2018
The Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali. Image © <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Djenne_great_mud_mosque.jpg'>Wikimedia user Ruud Zwart</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/nl/deed.en'>CC BY-SA 2.5 NL</a>
The Great Mosque of Djenné, Mali. Image © Wikimedia user Ruud Zwart licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 NL

This article was originally published on Common Edge as "Making a Case for the Renaissance of Traditional African Architecture."

Last September, Nigerian Afrobeat musician Wizkid played to a sold-out house at the Royal Albert Hall in London, joining a growing list of illustrious African musicians, such as Selif Kaita, Youssou Ndour, Miriam Makeba and others, that have performed at that prestigious venue. This event affirmed the unfolding cultural renaissance across the continent, but it also signified the rising global influence of African music, movies, fashion, cuisine and the arts.

Sadly, traditional African architecture, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, has not profited from this renaissance and has instead steadily lost its appeal across the continent. In spite of its towering influence in the pre-colonial era, it has largely failed to develop beyond the crude earthen walls and thatch roof architecture; for this reason it has remained unattractive to homeowners who often associate it with poverty. Consequently, the neglect of indigenous architecture has resulted in the dearth of skilled craftsmen knowledgeable in the art of traditional building, a reality that has further dimmed hopes for a revival of this architectural style.

Is Architecture Too Interdisciplinary? Or, Why Architects Need to Start Talking About Architecture

09:30 - 14 February, 2018
The Pantheon in Rome. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/80038275@N00/14984463972'>Flickr user Michael Vadon</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>
The Pantheon in Rome. Image © Flickr user Michael Vadon licensed under CC BY 2.0

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "What We Talk About When We Don’t Talk About Buildings."

One of the last programs I attended as part of the Chicago Architecture Biennial was a panel titled “Making/Writing/Teaching Contested Histories” at the Chicago Cultural Center. The panel, organized by the Feminist Art and Architecture Collaborative (FAAC), aimed to “foreground issues of class, race, and gender, interrogating how they partake in the production of the built environment.”

The panelists, all academics in fields related to the built environment, were asked to bring in an object central to their practice or their teaching method. The objects on display were a painting, a pier, a refugee camp, and a living room.

Three or four decades ago, this array would’ve scandalized an audience of architects and architectural scholars, who might’ve been expecting, I don’t know, a photo of the Pantheon, or a plan of it, or even a piece of wood or a brick. Maybe even the choice of a piece of furniture would’ve induced some surprised gasps or confused looks.

Architectural Education: Is It Actually Preparing Our Students for the Future?

09:30 - 3 February, 2018
Architectural Education: Is It Actually Preparing Our Students for the Future?, © <a href='https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arch_classroom.jpg'> Auburn University College of Architecture Archives</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en'>CC BY-SA 4.0</a>
© Auburn University College of Architecture Archives licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

The issue of how we educate our architects of the future is a divisive one. With the capabilities of our technology advancing rapidly, new mediums of Virtual Realityrobotics, and artificial intelligence are all changing the architectural profession at a fundamental level. This creates the question of whether architectural pedagogy is keeping up with the times and educating students to be ready for both professional practice and an uncertain future. 

In his opinion piece for Common Edge, ‘Architectural Education is Changing: Let’s Hope the Profession Can Keep Up’Phil Bernstein articulates his belief that architectural education today is indeed teaching students the necessary skills, but rather than focusing on simply teaching them to become competent workers, it is teaching them skills to design for the future.

9 Principles of Ethical Redevelopment to Consider in Order to Improve Communities, Not Gentrify Them

09:30 - 30 January, 2018
9 Principles of Ethical Redevelopment to Consider in Order to Improve Communities, Not Gentrify Them, The Stony Island Arts Bank was originally designed by William Gibbons Uffendell and constructed in 1923 as a community savings and loan. The refurbishment was launched by the Rebuild Foundation under the direction of artist Theaster Gates. Image Tom Harris © Hedrich Blessing. Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation
The Stony Island Arts Bank was originally designed by William Gibbons Uffendell and constructed in 1923 as a community savings and loan. The refurbishment was launched by the Rebuild Foundation under the direction of artist Theaster Gates. Image Tom Harris © Hedrich Blessing. Courtesy of Rebuild Foundation

A version of this article was originally published by Common Edge as "The Principles of Ethical Redevelopment."

Where does creativity live? Can the highest level of cultural production come from down the street? What does it mean to be a good neighbor, a good steward? How does that look when there are so many forces at work keeping people isolated? How do you see value in what others discard? Can we learn to talk about moments of success in our struggling neighborhoods, not as random and magical, but as sophisticated flexibility? What is civic empathy?

These are some of the questions Place Lab, a University of Chicago partnership between Arts + Public Life and the Harris School for Public Policy, explored in an exercise last year conducted with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation: it’s the articulation of a set of nine principles collectively called Ethical Redevelopment.

From Affordable Housing to Climate Change, San Francisco Is a Microcosm of Global Urban Challenges

09:30 - 23 January, 2018
From Affordable Housing to Climate Change, San Francisco Is a Microcosm of Global Urban Challenges,  © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/sagesolar/11909989624/'>Flickr user sagesolar</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>
© Flickr user sagesolar licensed under CC BY 2.0

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "John King on San Francisco, Oakland, and the Challenge of Affordable Housing."

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.

The Renovation of Louis Kahn's Yale University Art Center: A Significant Moment for Architectural Preservation

09:30 - 19 January, 2018
The Renovation of Louis Kahn's Yale University Art Center: A Significant Moment for Architectural Preservation, © Elizabeth Felicella, courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery
© Elizabeth Felicella, courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "How the Restoration of Louis Kahn’s Yale Art Gallery Helped Kickstart Modern Preservation."

I have a distinct memory from my days as an architecture student at the University of California Berkeley in the late ‘80s. During an architectural survey class taught by Spiro Kostof, Louis I Kahn’s Yale University Art Gallery popped up in the slideshow. “Nice building,” I thought, “but what’s with those windows?”

Fifteen years later at Polshek Partnership (now Ennead Architects), I would become the project architect for the construction phase overseeing the rehabilitation of that classic building—the most challenging aspect of which was to replace “those windows.” I came to understand, intimately, how the double-paned window wall had failed almost as soon as construction was complete. Condensation accumulated between the panes, creating the foggy effect that marred my first impression of this groundbreaking building.

Was the AIA's Failure to Give its Twenty-Five Year Award In 2018 a Snub to Postmodernism?

09:30 - 16 January, 2018
Was the AIA's Failure to Give its Twenty-Five Year Award In 2018 a Snub to Postmodernism?, Michael Graves' Team Disney Building. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/lorenjavier/3600380204'>Flickr user lorenjavier</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/'>CC BY-ND 2.0</a>
Michael Graves' Team Disney Building. Image © Flickr user lorenjavier licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "Did the AIA Take a Pass on Postmodernism?"

People perceive architecture in different ways. “Style” is often an easy classification, traditional or modern. Popular residential work is often categorized dismissively by architects as “vernacular.” The branding of the product of the profession, an oeuvre of work embodied in buildings and their meaning in our culture as celebrated by the American Institute of Architects, has many levels of recognition, from local AIA Chapter Awards, to national Awards.

No AIA Award has more meaning or lustre inside the profession than the “Twenty-five Year Award” for buildings that have “stood the test of time.” The award has been given continuously for the last 56 years. This year, the Design Jury chosen to select a seminal building has opted not to give an award to anything, any building 25-35 years old.

How African Cities Are Failing People with Disabilities (And What Architects Can Do About It)

09:30 - 27 December, 2017
How African Cities Are Failing People with Disabilities (And What Architects Can Do About It), A paraplegic man, entering the Nigerian House of Representatives, is forced to crawl down the steps. Image <a href='https://twitter.com/SaharaReporters/status/938102600817348609'>via Sahara Reporters on Twitter</a>
A paraplegic man, entering the Nigerian House of Representatives, is forced to crawl down the steps. Image via Sahara Reporters on Twitter

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "Africa’s Undeclared War on the Disabled."

Recently I spent part of a week in the company of a multidisciplinary group of academics and researchers from Europe, the US, and Africa, at a workshop entitled “The Practice and Politics of DIY Urbanism in Africa.” Jonathan Makuwira, a professor from the Malawi University of Technology, delivered a compelling paper on “Disability and Urbanism in Malawi,” highlighting the many challenges of the continent’s disabled population, using that city as a case study.

The lecture reaffirmed my sentiments on the gross inadequacies of urban public spaces for the disabled. It’s an issue that formed the basis for my 2016 entry for the Richard Rogers Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), where I had proposed to use the fellowship to develop a prescriptive accessible design blueprint for public spaces in the city of Abuja.

A Close Look at the Gehl Institute's Free Toolkit for City Planning

09:30 - 19 December, 2017
A Close Look at the Gehl Institute's Free Toolkit for City Planning

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "The Gehl Institute’s Toolkit for the Creation of Great Urban Spaces."

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.

Good Design Does Have Economic Value—No Matter What Critics of Contemporary Architecture Say

09:30 - 12 December, 2017
Good Design Does Have Economic Value—No Matter What Critics of Contemporary Architecture Say, Yale University Sculpture Building / Kieran Timberlake. Image © Peter Aaron/Esto
Yale University Sculpture Building / Kieran Timberlake. Image © Peter Aaron/Esto

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "What Critics of Contemporary Architecture Are Missing: The Value of Design."

“The reason that highly designed contemporary architecture almost exclusively manifests in iconic structures is that it’s the only way that investing in design and aesthetic quality can turn a profit.” This is the central assertion of “The Politics of Architecture Are Not a Matter of Taste,” published in Common Edge a couple of weeks ago (and republished as “Hate Contemporary Architecture? Blame Economics, Not Architects” on ArchDaily). Marianela D’Aprile’s impassioned essay takes issue with a Current Affairs piece from October, “Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture,” in which the authors, staff writers Brianna Rennix and Nathan J. Robinson, hate on the current state of the design industry.

Both articles confuse me. “Good buildings recede seamlessly into their surroundings,” Rennix and Robinson claim, but the buildings they praise—figural structures such as London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Moorish palace of The Alhambra—stand out prominently. D’Aprile criticizes the authors’ imprecise use of terminology, but, as the opening passage above shows, her own language can be vague, relying on words such as iconic, ubiquitous shorthand among architects. (If it’s intended to convey “distinctive,” the irony is that most buildings described with that term have a similar sculptural character, so in our mind’s eye they all sort of blend together—the opposite of distinction.) She defines architecture as “buildings that have been designed for construction in the physical world.” Aren’t all buildings constructed “in the physical world”? And are all unrealized designs necessarily relegated to something other than architecture?

Here's What You Can Learn About Architecture from Tracking People's Eye Movements

09:30 - 6 December, 2017
Here's What You Can Learn About Architecture from Tracking People's Eye Movements, © Ann Sussman
© Ann Sussman

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "Game-Changing Eye-Tracking Studies Reveal How We Actually See Architecture."

While many architects have long clung to the old “form follows function” adage, form follows brain function might be the motto of today’s advertisers and automakers, who increasingly use high-tech tools to understand hidden human behaviors, and then design their products to meet them (without ever asking our permission!)

Biometric tools like an EEG (electroencephalogram) which measures brain waves; facial expression analysis software that follows our changing expressions; and eye-tracking, which allows us to record “unconscious” eye movements, are ubiquitous in all kinds of advertising and product development today—beyond the psychology or medical departments where you might expect to see them. These days you’ll also find them installed at the behavioral research and user experience labs in business schools such as American University in DC and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts.

What happens when you apply a biometric measure like eye-tracking to architecture? More than we expected...

Architecture Education is Unhealthy, Expensive, and Ineffective. Could Online Learning Change That?

09:30 - 29 November, 2017
Architecture Education is Unhealthy, Expensive, and Ineffective. Could Online Learning Change That?, Gund Hall, home of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/peterhess/5827571398'>Flickr user peterhess</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/'>CC BY 2.0</a>
Gund Hall, home of the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Image © Flickr user peterhess licensed under CC BY 2.0

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "Is Online Learning Really the Future of Architectural Education?"

Higher education is on the cusp of a major transition. It’s extremely likely that professional training, including that necessary to become an architect, will be conducted primarily online in the relatively near future. This means that design studio classes, a hallmark of the architect’s experience, will also happen online, likely without the in-person, face-to-face contact that defines that experience. The shift will eliminate many self-defeating aspects of today’s studio culture, but there’s also potential pitfalls that need to be addressed, before an online version of that culture acquires its own bad habits. We can do this by pro-actively devising new teaching and working methods that leverage the capabilities of digital education to promote constructive social dynamics between students.