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Metropolis Magazine: The Latest Architecture and News

From Podcast to Print, Roman Mars Discusses The 99% Invisible City

Over the last ten years, the podcast 99% Invisible has been captivating listeners throughout the world by exposing the overlooked and seemingly mundane aspects of architecture and design. While the show had modest beginnings in creator Roman Mars’s bedroom, it has now grown to more than 400 episodes generating over 400 million downloads.

This week, fans can also hold the show’s stories in their hands in the form of a new book titled The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design, which Mars co-wrote with digital director and producer Kurt Kohlstedt. Composed of research and reporting from the podcast as well as brand new stories, the book (illustrated by Patrick Vale) highlights design considerations that often go unnoticed.

Decoration Deserves to Be Celebrated for What It Is, Rather Than Dismissed for What It Isn’t

Beginning with the moral indignation expressed in Adolf Loos’s 1910 lecture “Ornament and Crime” and Le Corbusier’s 1925 The Decorative Art of Today, decoration has been attacked from every possible angle. Driven by the heroic male architect, Modernist dictates of good design—functionalism, truth to materials, purity of form—quickly took over and continue to be the dominant ideology today in the way architecture and interiors are taught and practiced. If Modern architecture was rational, masculine, and structural, then decoration was considered emotional, feminine, and shallow. Or, according to Loos, it was flat-out degenerate.

Design Before Air Conditioning: A New Book Surveys Early Experiments in Climate Control

It’s easy to think of Modernism as inseparable from air conditioning, simply because we are surrounded by so much of it that is. A valuable reminder that this wasn’t always the case is provided in University of Pennsylvania architecture professor Daniel A. Barber’s Modern Architecture and Climate: Design Before Air Conditioning (Princeton University Press), which outlines the story of the febrile, flexible, and often-forgotten early experiments in climate control.

The Winding Saga of the Restoration of the Narkomfin, an Icon of Soviet Constructivism

If you wandered down Novinsky Boulevard in central Moscow five years ago looking for the Narkomfin building, you’d have been greeted by a sorry sight. The Narkomfin, the poster child for Constructivist architecture designed by Moisey Ginzburg and Ignaty Milinis in 1928, had been slowly falling into a state of dereliction after being left unloved for 45 years. Paint peeling, concrete crumbling, and windows broken—not to mention the numerous, muddling alterations made to the block of flats, including a completely new ground floor.

The apartment block is raised on pilotis, a hallmark of High Modernism. An indoor bridge connects this main structure to an ancillary building, which was originally designed to contain communal spaces. Image © Ivan MuraenkoOne of the 44 apartments in the building. Private kitchens were gradually added since the building’s opening in 1930–32. Image © Ivan MuraenkoA common area in the ancillary structure, whose curved, glazed facade contrasts with the residential block’s curvilinearity. Image © Ivan MuraenkoA view from the roof, looking north, with the Stalin-era Kudrinskaya Square Building in the left background. Image © Ivan Muraenko+ 5

Architects and Designers Urge Action on Healthier Policy Priorities

In the wake of the pandemic, designers and architects are rethinking and inventing innovative solutions for nearly every sector of design from hospitality, restaurants, workplace experience, and landscape architecture. According to the World Health Organization, 19 percent of factors that affect our health and well-being are directly related to the built environment, making architects and designers key to protecting public health.

Post-COVID, More Office Designs Include Permanent Outdoor Workspaces

For years now, designers have been emphasizing natural lighting, ventilation, and connectivity to nature as ways to improve employee health and wellness. Now that the coronavirus is much more likely to be transmitted indoors—the risk is nearly 20 times greater, according to one study—a strong case could be made for moving some office work completely outside. “The benefits of light and fresh air are pretty self-evident, and the pandemic only reinforces that,” says Christopher McCartin, managing director of design and construction at real estate developer Tishman Speyer, which has been including “significant outdoor space” in all of its office developments nationwide.

'The Drawdown Review' Suggests That Architects Move Toward Scalable Climate Solutions

An inspector rappels down the blade of a three megawatt wind turbine in Boulder, Colorado. Image © Dennis Schroeder/NREL
An inspector rappels down the blade of a three megawatt wind turbine in Boulder, Colorado. Image © Dennis Schroeder/NREL

Architects and designers of the built environment are often conceptualized in popular culture as progressive change agents whose canvas of steel and glass brings light to the public realm. At least one global survey of the public’s trust in various professions places architects in a top-ranked cohort that includes medical professionals and first responders. But in the United States, the architecture profession is surprisingly older and much less progressive than one might imagine.

Karen Braitmayer, Founder of Studio Pacifica, Weighs in on Accessible Design

Karen Braitmayer, a disabled architect, consultant, and volunteer, brings her unique life experiences to Studio Pacifica, the Seattle‐based practice she founded in 1993. With deep expertise in code compliance and regulations, Braitmayer and her team work with architectural firms like Olson Kundig and Perkins and Will to help create barrier‐free civic, residential, and commercial buildings. Studio Pacifica has served as consultants on notable projects ranging from the Space Needle renovation to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center and student housing at Smith College. Braitmayer was appointed by President Barack Obama to the United States Access Board, a position she still holds today.

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) this month, we spoke to her about how far we’ve come, and how we can continue to advance accessible design in the built environment.

A ramp at Deep Dive is an elegant and integrated part of the restaurant's design. Courtesy Studio PacificaAxle Apartments. Courtesy Studio PacificaStudio Pacifica consulted on Modera Ballard, a residential project in Seattle by Tiscareno Associates. Courtesy Studio PacificaStudio Pacifica also worked on Axle Apartments in Seattle's Interbay neighborhood. The apartments were designed by Encore Architects. Courtesy Studio Pacifica+ 6

From a Complicated Present, Urban Reuse Parks Look to the Future

Metropolis catches up with the High Line Network, a consortium of North American reuse projects that has been sharing notes and best practices through the pandemic.

Since the pandemic began, the High Line Network—a group of North American infrastructure reuse projects founded in 2017—has been conducting regular teleconference calls among its members, comparing notes on operations and sharing best practices and advice with fellow members. With many open or planning to reopen soon, and as the pandemic continues, many observers expect these projects will become even more popular among the public, since they provide outdoor space where visitors can walk, bicycle, and safely enjoy themselves—usually at an appropriate distance from one another. Especially now, the network believes its constituent projects can deliver tremendous and much-needed social, health, environmental, and economic benefits.

Eastside Trail and Ponce City Market along the Atlanta BeltLine. Courtesy The SintosesArt along the Eastside Trail of the Atlanta BeltLine. Courtesy The SintosesDequindre Cut. Courtesy Detroit Riverfront ConservancyMurals along Dequindre Cut. Courtesy Detroit Riverfront Conservancy+ 13

Can Quarantine Propel Us Toward Planetary Sanctuary?

I can’t stop thinking about refugia. In the years, months, and days before the COVID-19 pandemic, the term was confined to the literature and philosophy of climate crisis, referring to pockets of life that through geographic isolation or species resilience manage to hang on in spite of the environmental forces against them. Think of clusters of Pacific Northwest barnacles nestled high on coastal outcroppings to avoid falling prey to sea snails. Or old-growth forests insulated from rising temperatures in cool mountain valleys.

As self-quarantine set in earlier this spring, the word refugia, at least for me, expanded in definition from specific ecological condition to conceptual touchstone—a necessary leap to metaphor when faced with planetary crisis. The magnitude of this pandemic falls outside human comprehension, but for the luckiest of us, refuge is manageable: a place of relative safety, of sourdough starters and online Jazzercise classes.

Paola Antonelli and Alice Rawsthorn’s Instagram Live Series Examines COVID-19 Designs

The design.emergency initiative has unpacked everything from collaborative PPE production to object hacking and the power of symbolic imagery.

In the era of the pandemic, the design world’s museums, galleries, manufacturers, organizations, and independent talents have all gone virtual. An endless list of COVID-19-induced cancellations has driven most to find clever ways in which to present their work and engage their audiences. Many have opted for viewing room and interactive exhibition formats, while social media and video communication services have also played a vital role.

An Online Exhibition Connects the Dots Between Performance and Architecture

Six months after the release of the namesake book during the latest installment of the biennial, PERFORMA has launched Bodybuilding, which features thirty-five architecture studios who engage with performativity.

Is architecture a period or a comma? Are built forms hermetic bodies or catalysts for action? PERFORMA curator Charles Aubin and architect Carlos Mínguez Carrascor, published Bodybuilding: Architecture and Performance, during the most recent installment of the PERFORMA 19 biennial in New York City last November. Noticing a lack of a comprehensive, multigenerational survey on the subject, the duo’s interest in investigating the ways architects engage with performance goes as far back as a symposium they co-organized at the Performa 17 Hub in 2017. The book, which features essays by Mabel O. Wilson and Bryony Roberts, Lluís Alexandre Casanovas Blanco, and Victoria Bugge Øye, seeded the fundamental approaches now deeply rooted in the online exhibition: the impact of movement on systematic urbanization, the body’s relationship to buildings and monuments, and architecture’s role in action, be it physical or sociopolitical.

BodybuildingBodybuilding, OMA, Prada Transformer, Seoul, 2009Bodybuilding, Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley, ReActor, 2016. Photograph by Richard BarnesBodybuilding, Bryony Roberts And Mabel O. Wilson, Marching On, Dancers, Marcus Garvey Park, 2017. Photograph By Jenica Heintzelman+ 14

After COVID-19, What’s Next for Landscape Architecture?

The urban crisis brings many challenges, but also presents opportunities for landscape architects to help build more equitable green spaces and cities.

As a Los Angeles resident who doesn’t drive, navigating the city on foot and bike has always made me feel like I have the whole place to myself.

But over the last two months, Angelenos have been freckling the streets—it’s like they’ve all discovered for the first time that they’re capable of exploring this city without a car. While most beaches and trails in the city were shuttered (they have since re-opened), I noticed the LA River becoming the city’s new “it spot” for socially distant hangouts. And in a city that lacks adequate public parks, people are turning any patch of grass or sidewalk—whether it’s an elementary school yard, a traffic median, or a bit of concrete next to a parking lot—into a bit of respite from the madness.

Measuring the Fallout of COVID-19 for the Design Industry

At ThinkLab, our passion lies at the intersection of specification and design, where we use research to improve communications between designers and manufacturers. Today, that research is helping companies within the interiors industry make critical business decisions as we face economic uncertainty. Here, we share some recent data and insights from our Industry Impact Survey—an ongoing research initiative that we invite you to participate in.

This 125-year-old Swedish Town Has Relocated, Buildings and All

Kiruna Forever, an exhibition at ArkDes, traces the town's relocation due to geological instability.

“Kiruna is on the move,” says Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, curator of the new exhibition Kiruna Forever. Kiruna, a 125-year-old Swedish town that sprouted around the iron mine of the same name, started an official relocation process in 2018 after decades of discussion with the state-owned mining company LKAB. Today, as the expansion of the mine destabilizes the ground surrounding it, nearby buildings are being demolished or loaded onto flatbed trucks and moved to the new city center nearly two miles east.

Architecture Visions at a Global Scale

For more than a century, architects have been addressing the world as a project through speculative designs in an attempt to imagine the future and reframe global issues. Globalisation, the ever-increasing interconnectedness demands action on a worldwide scale and invites a reflection on the profession's responsibilities. The latter is precisely what the book The World as an Architectural Project achieves, through a compilation of world-scale speculative projects of the past century, making a compelling case for the agency of architecture.

Long-Term Plans: To Build for Resilience, We’ll Need to Design With—Not Against—Nature

Moving away from its early exclusive focus on natural disasters, resilient architecture and design tackles the much tougher challenge of helping ecosystems regenerate.

Thirty years ago, as a high school student at the Cranbrook boarding school in suburban Detroit, I wrote a research-based investigative report on the environmental crisis for the student newspaper. I had been encouraged to do so by a faculty adviser, David Watson, who lived a double life as a radical environmentalist writing under the pseudonym George Bradford for the anarchist tabloid Fifth Estate. His diatribe How Deep Is Deep Ecology? questioned a recurring bit of cant from the radical environmental movement: Leaders of groups like Earth First! frequently disparaged the value of human life in favor of protecting nature.