Facebook changes; everyone complains

This time it’s Facebook’s new ‘timeline’ feature for users’ profiles:

There it is. Image courtesy TechCrunch.

The world’s more thoughtful people have already anticipated the flood of ‘I hate the new Facebook’ statuses that will hit Facebook in massive, explosive waves of fury over the next few weeks. More on my views after the break.

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Past Tragedy: MVRDV’s ‘cloud’ comes under fire

Past Tragedy is a new Concrete Aspirations series examining architecture that responds to and commemorates 9/11.

MVRDV's elegant 'Cloud' towers.

There are but a few moments when the wider world takes an interest in architecture, and this seems to be one of them. MVRDV’s new ‘Cloud’ tower to be constructed in Seoul, South Korea, is under fire from many for its alleged resemblance to the World Trade Center attacks. My views after the break. Continue reading

The way(s) forward: the bright future of urbanism

All good things come to an end, and my series The Way(s) Forward for Urbanism, which goes back all the way to July of this year, is no exception. I consider this the seventh and final part in that series.

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Here’s the New York Times’s David Brooks:

According to recent polls, 60 percent of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. The same percentage believe that the U.S. is in long-term decline. The political system is dysfunctional. A fiscal crisis looks unavoidable. There are plenty of reasons to be gloomy.

But if you want to read about them, stop right here. This column is a great luscious orgy of optimism. Because the fact is, despite all the problems, America’s future is exceedingly bright.

There’s a good beginning! And then a little later:

In his book, “The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050,” über-geographer Joel Kotkin sketches out how this growth will change the national landscape. Extrapolating from current trends, he describes an archipelago of vibrant suburban town centers, villages and urban cores… Over the next 40 years, Kotkin argues, urban downtowns will continue their modest (and perpetually overhyped) revival, but the real action will be out in the compact, self-sufficient suburban villages. Many of these places will be in the sunbelt — the drive to move there remains strong — but Kotkin also points to surging low-cost hubs on the Plains, like Fargo, Dubuque, Iowa City, Sioux Falls, and Boise.

Sounds accurate. And  Christopher Leinberger, a professor urban planning and a fellow at the Brookings Institution, had this response:

This conclusion is exactly in line with my research; there is pent up demand for walkable urban places and upward of 70 percent of this demand will take place in the suburbs while the rest will be the redevelopment of center cities… What is needed to catch up with the pent up demand for walkable urban places, especially in the suburbs, is complete transportation policy reform. Since transportation drives development, we need to build the second half of the American transportation system–rail and bus transit and bikes and walking– while repairing our existing roadway system. Only this will allow for the emergence of the walkable urban places that the market, economy, and environment demands.

Good points all around. And this is what the future of urbanism is about: it’s about finding potential in the future and exploring. Fundamentally, it’s about applying our tremendous human problem-solving skills to what we’re up against. And I have a strong feeling that we’re going to do a damn good job of it.

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This series came out of my April piece about the follies of looking to the past and the necessity for bold ideas that tackle the problems of the future head-on. I set out in the series to present the best of those ideas that I found around the Internet, and I’m pleased with the result. This serieis included a video of Christian de Portzamparc’s discussing his ideas; a piece advocating for more government money spent on high-speed rail; a piece about those instances when preservationists are in the right; and much more. You can explore the entire series by clicking ‘Urbanism’ in the menu above.

By no means am I done writing about urbanism. The future of urbanism on this blog, not unlike the future of urbanism is America, is unmistakably bright.

The skill of Romaldo Giurgola

For those of you who don’t know him, Romaldo Giurgola is a tremendously skilled architect with a career that spans back to the 1950s to the present. Giurgola is well-known for his breaking with the Modernist pack in the 60s in favor of a more Frank Lloyd Wright-esque, quiet, contextual Modernism. Giurgola is no Robert Venturi; he did not abandon Modernism. Rather, he practiced it uniquely and with tremendous skill.

Not a great photo, but you get the idea.

Here we have Giurgola’s Lang Music Building at Swarthmore College, one of the campus’s highlights. This quiet building is pulled off with exceptional skill inside and out. It manages to be unassuming but memorable, subtle but affecting.

More about the Lang Building and Giurgola after the break. Continue reading

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WSJ. Magazine awards Bjarke Ingels

WSJ. Magazine (the Wall Street Journal’s monthly magazine) has given the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels its 2011 Innovator of the Year architecture prize for his environmentally conscious but still artistic approach to architecture: his belief in playful, exciting design that’s also environmentally friendly. (I wonder what the Wall Street Journal editorial page would have to say about this, given the whole not-believing-in-global-warming thing it has going on.)

Bjarke Ingeles's Greenland National Gallery. Photo courtesy Big, Ingeles's architecture firm.

More after the break. Continue reading

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The Lens: Tile staircase

A fascinating tile staircase in a neo-Georgian classroom building at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

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The way(s) forward for urbanism, part VI

Particularly astute readers might have noticed that this is the second time part VI has appeared. Why? Because the post formerly with this title, which can be found here, really isn’t about urbanism at all. I lost focus, and now I hope to correct that by redoing this correctly.

Yes, this is strange, and far more flashy and polished than most urban gardens, but I do think it's interesting enough to merit a photograph. (I certainly would like this garden.) Photo courtesy Bella Online.

Apparently, in some major cities, urban gardening is on the rise. More on this new trend after the break.

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For Concrete Aspirations, a shift in focus

Concrete Aspirations is changing. You may have noticed over time that this blog has evolved significantly — and for the better, I think. But now, for the first time, I’m shifting focus, from architecture as a singular art to architecture and its role in society. This is going to mean more posts that explore the connection between architecture and politics, between urbanism and politics, between architecture and urbanism, between television and architecture — you get the picture. This is not to say that I won’t continue posting building reviews or lengthy dissections of architectural theory, but rather that the general focus of the blog is moving away from specific architects and specific styles and towards a broader understanding of architecture.

I strongly believe that this shift will broaden Concrete Aspirations’s appeal while at the same time allowing me to more fully express myself.

The only esthetic change, for now at least, is the addition of a new menu below the nameplate. This will allow for quick and easy access to my most popular categories of posts, some of which have just been created as a part of this shift in focus.

So enjoy! I certainly do hope you’ll all stick with me and appreciate this change. And of course, feel free to leave any kind of feedback.

Louis Silverstein, New York Times designer, dead at 92

Journalism is one of my biggest interests, along with architecture. So it was with particular interest and sadness that I read this obituary in yesterday’s New York Times. The author, Douglas Martin, does an excellent job paying respect to one of the Times’s great designers and a man who transformed the look of newspapers for the better, Louis Silverstein. He devised numerous graphic innovations, all decidedly modern, and oversaw the look of the nation’s newspaper of record for decades. The Times, and the rest of the world of art and design, lost a very important man this week. Fortunately, his work lives on, delivered to the doors of almost a million people every single day.

A section designed by Silverstein. Graphic courtesy the New York Times.

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Defending my post on cycling

This is quite the photograph.

I had some pretty harsh words yesterday for what I see as the often excessive and self-indulgent culture of cycling. My criticism certainly went against the grain and drew some strong criticism of its own. Some is legitimate; some less so. And much of it seems based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what I was trying to say — perhaps I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. A full defense of my post after the break. Continue reading

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