Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer, though little known today, was not only a leading architecture critic of her day but also one of the pioneers of the field in the late 19th century. Here Alexandra Lange analyzes her writings and her influence. As she writes, "Mariana Van Rensselaer worked out the ground rules of the fledgling profession, struggling to be a critic of greater conscientiousness, while calling upon her players — architects, clients, public — to do their jobs properly."
During a recent summer in Helsinki, Ken McCown found himself fascinated by the myriad "creatures" — decorative carvings, usually of stone or wood — that adorn the walls and cornices and rooflines of buildings in the Finnish capital. "The creatures became a way to intuit the past mythologies of place," he writes. And ultimately they made him wonder "whether this kind of expressive decoration might help reinforce a connection between the urban and natural."
NEWS FROM DESIGN OBSERVER GROUP SPONSORS
What are you doing this summer? How about studying design history, theory and practice in Italy the birthplace of Western typographic tradition. You can at the Masters Workshop in Rome May 26-June 9, 2013.
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In just two decades Shanghai has been transformed from "mothballed relic" of Maoism to one of the world's largest and most dynamic cities, complete with the fastest train on earth and more high-rise buildings than Manhattan. Daniel Brook recounts the city's fast-forward and often ruthless reinvention — and describes what has become an enduring dilemma in Reform-era China. For all its new energy, he writes, "the new Shanghai has yet to live up to the city’s historic promise — to sort out what it means to be Chinese and modern."
On a recent visit to the Southwest, planner Armando Carbonell had the opportunity to view the Colorado River Delta from the window of a Cessna. Among the results were dozens of aerial photographs of a fragile ecosystem that over the past century has been diminished by almost 90 percent, a casualty of the water wars that have shaped the American West. And yet, he notes, it's too soon to give up on the Delta. Here we present a selection of Carbonell's photos of a surreally beautiful and remarkably resilient landscape.
"In early 1950, William A. Garnett began flying over six square miles of former lima bean fields 23 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles," writes D.J. Waldie. "Garnett’s assignment was to photograph the building of a suburban tract of 17,500 houses called Lakewood." Here Waldie explores the complex relationship between the aerial view and the postwar suburban boom, a relationship at once materialistic and transcendent. "Although the photographs were factually out-of-date as soon as the prints were dry," says Waldie, "the anxieties they evoked became perfectly timeless."
KRISTI DYKEMA CHERAMIE & MICHAEL PASQUIER
During the 2011 Mississippi River “Flood Fight,” engineers intentionally flooded a wide swath of rural Louisiana that had been designated for that purpose in the 1930s. Over the course of a year, Kristi Dykema Cheramie and Michael Pasquier investigate the story of a small African American Baptist church relocated by the Army Corps of Engineers — a story “embedded in a deeper forgetting about the place of human activity in a precarious landscape.”
The 14th annual conference, hosted by the art, architecture and design magazine Arquine
, will be held March 11–12 in Mexico City.
"Of all the anthropogenic transformations occasioned upon the North American continent, few garner less attention than the shift in the dynamics of sediment transport: in essence, in the large-scale movement of huge quantities of earth." As Richard Campanella argues, the promethean geo-engineering of our river systems has resulted in the extreme erosion of our coasts, which now face "a dire future" without swift intervention. Campanella proposes one such intervention.
Earlier this week Places editor Nancy Levinson highlighted the tension between the need for public action and the culture of privatization that has so firmly gripped our politics. Here Reinhold Martin explores the philosophical understandings of the terms public
, from seminal mid 20th-century works by Hannah Arendt and Jurgen Habermas to the recent writings of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, who argue that the old concepts are inadequate to grasping, and countering, in Martin's words, "the new, decentered sovereignty of neoliberal capital."
As Barack Obama takes the oath of office for his second term, the longstanding tension between the pressing need for public action and the tenacious culture of privatization remains the critical dilemma of U.S. politics. Nothing underscores the need to resolve this tension — and to commit once again to the ideals of collective purpose and common good — than the accelerating crisis of climate change. Places editor Nancy Levinson argues for an intensified political agenda for designers.
"As design extends its purview to cartography," writes Jill Desimini, "it is time once again to look closely at maps and plans, to immerse ourselves in their beauty but also to uncover their projective potential. We have an even greater challenge now, as our drawings are required to be interactive, to make sense of big data, and to describe increasingly complex systems." Desimini explores a range of cartographic practices, from a 13th-century view of the British Isles to contemporary data visualization.
"When I first heard of Paju Bookcity," writes Shannon Mattern, "I imagined a bibliophilic paradise of human-scaled buildings with legible facades nestled side-by-side like volumes on a shelf. When I traveled to the real Paju Bookcity, I found an industrial estate created by companies related to all aspects of book manufacturing, sited north of Seoul in the marshes near the Demilitarized Zone. But if Bookcity is not the fairy tale I envisioned, it is a kind of Cinderella story: this is the industrial park remade." Here Mattern explores the ongoing remaking of Bookcity — and book culture — in the digital era.
the Indian practice of "doing more with less," has swept the business world. Here Adelheid Fischer explores its potential for design at all scales, from the gadget to the city, and argues that in the coming era of resource scarcity, "jugaad has the potential — maybe our best shot yet — to articulate and frame a global philosophy for sustainable innovation."
"No one in Texas thinks of Austin as a real city, and as a city it is in truth a model of nothing. Invented almost from scratch as the capital, its consequent slight grandeur of scale has never been matched by its industry, and so it has had a vague pleasant lithium quietness. ... Then, really in the last ten years, that particular odd disembodied quality became desirable." To start the new year, an essay by David Heymann, on Austin then and now, and a heartbreak of a house commission.
PLACES ARCHIVE: WINTER 1989
In 1989 Phoenix, Arizona, commissioned one of the first public art master plans. The city now has one of the strongest public art programs in the country.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, School of Architecture and Planning
The unifying theme of all our activities is design. Through the design of physical spaces, and through the design of policies and technologies that shape how those spaces are used, we aim to sustain and enhance the quality of the human environment at all scales, from the personal to the global. We believe that design and policy interventions should be grounded in a commitment to improving individual human lives, equity and social justice, cultural enrichment and the responsible use of resources through creative problem-solving and project execution.