Architecture

Precedents for the 11th Street Bridge Park

I’ve written up a post on the the 11th Street Bridge Park for Greater Greater Washington. It’s an exciting idea, but it’s important to slow down and consider what’s possible.

The Bridge Park is really more of an elevated park than a bridge. But its bridge-like form means it can be much more than just a deck with greenery. Since it’s elevated over water, it offers something special related to depth. Its section can go up into the sky and down into the water in ways that no other park can. No excavation is required, and people on the deck can interact with what’s below.

Since there is only one precedent for such a structure, the Providence Greenway, perhaps it’s worth looking a things that are typologically adjacent: bridges, linear parks, and buildings that address the water in noteworthy ways.

Bridges

The first kind of bridge that’s worth noting is one that carefully frames the intersection of the stream and a road. The Ponte Alexandre III is a well-known example. It’s a tetrapylon, a marker of the intersection of two equal routes.

Another interesting type is a bridge that’s asymmetrical along the axis of the flow. If you have a road, there typically are two directions of traffic. Each one is usually equal in value. A river, however, does have a direction: downstream, downhill. That by itself can be a source of impressive architectural effects – as how water rushes around bridge piers.

With symbolism, you get something very poetic. Otto Wagner’s Nussdorf bridge-wier seems to fight the force of the water coming down to it. Massive stone pylons, scrolling up against a sturdy truss, support columns topped by lions. The design expresses the strength of the flood protection it offered Vienna.

Linear Parks

In the article, I suggested that the High Line was an inappropriate comparison to the Bridge Park, because one is through dense neighborhoods, while the other is over a river. The level of activation influences the level of activity. The High Line has the luxury of limiting access to create a nice level of calm in the city. The Bridge Park will only ever have two entrances. 

But – James Corner: Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the designers of the High Line, made a few design decisions that are worth examining. For one, they distributed little spaces along the way that focus your attention on city life. Even the most jaded visitors end up gawking at the flow of traffic and people-watching.

Waterfront Buildings

At the ICA Boston, a museum on the outer harbor, DS+R turned guests’ attention to the horizon. Every space, like comfortable main porch to the disorienting research room, makes you look at the sky and the water with fresh eyes. 

ICA research room by michelvandenbogaard CC-BY-ND
There’s something surreal about water that’s as relentless as the sky. Take a look at James Turrell’s understanding of the sky. Could a basketball player understand what’s going on here:
Sure. We all know the sky and the water.
Plus, if you want to get beyond vision, steps down to the river, like at the Oslo Opera House might form an incredible amphitheater.
There are a lot of options for this park. I look forward to seeing what the designers come up with. What I think will be important, though, is looking for a designer who wants to relate the communities’ prosaic needs – like a play structure – to fundamentals that are so prosaic we’ve forgotten how wonderful they are.
Russia

L’VIV PUTIN ALONE

Some classmates of mine are living in L’viv right now. If you’ve been following the crisis in Ukraine, you might find their photo blog interesting: L’viv of Absence.

L’viv (Prounounced luh-VYU in Ukrainian and ul-VOV in Russian) has taken a staunchly nationalist outlook during this crisis. In general, as a part of Galitsia, it has historically tried to be more western and more independent of Russian influence. It’s also very nice, I hear!

Local planning

Is there an anti-Tregoning?

Recently on a few community boards, I’ve seen posts arguing whoever replaces Harriet Tregoning is obviously going to disavow “smart growth.” The problem is: where are they gonna find someone like this?

I’ve never met a professional planner who opposes the policies that constitute smart growth. Give or take a few things, what gets called “smart growth” is the standard approach of almost all urban planners. Despite Tregoning’s involvement in consolidating the agenda of Smart Growth, most of what she supports is the product of 50 years of empirical study of what makes cities work.

Outside of the mainstream, there are socialist and libertarian positions to urban planning. Their positions are significantly more radical than anything OP has proposed.

The topic is worth discussing, because today the Post endorsed Muriel Bowser for Mayor and the Mayor, Vince Gray, appointed Rosalynn Hughey as interim director of the Office of Planning. Whether she becomes permanent or steps down, OP will probably view the city’s problems from the same position Tregoning did.

Gray’s development policies were basically the same ones as Bowser’s mentor, Adrian Fenty. Fenty’s policies were really just versions of Tony Williams’ strategies, developed by Ellen McCarthy and Andy Altman. Tregoning wasn’t that different. She was just more upfront – and willing to be hated.

So there’s little threat that Tregoning’s policies will be rolled back under a revanchist OP. The best the intransigent opponents of development can hope for is spineless. If they truly believe that Tregoning sold out the city to developers, what do they think spineless will do?

 

Russia

Black Soviets

As seen in the 1939 Soviet Pavilion, Stalin was interested in projecting an image of racial harmony in the Soviet Union, as socialism ostensibly embraced. Realizing they had little to lose in the racist environment United States, a handful of Black men and women immigrated to the Soviet Union. Some still live there, along with more recent migrants from Africa. Black Russians covers this unusual, but kind of unsurprising chapter of Russian history.

Architecture

Watch the MLK Library presentations

DCPL put on a good show this Saturday, with the teams of architects presenting their designs. I always enjoy watching architects present their work to the public. It’s not exactly enthralling if you’ve read up on the three different schemes, but the nature of live discussions adds some insight into how each of the teams approached the design.

DCPL has done a great job of encouraging involvement and feedback, even if that meant reading ridiculous tweets at the presentation. They used a good competition process that begins with experience, pays for the work, and demands more than pretty pictures. It was just the level of openness that was needed. I like what Christopher Hawthorne says:

Results will be announced this Tuesday, the 18th, but that will only the beginning of design.

planning

What we talk about when we talk about cities

urban renewal ngrams

urbanist ngrams

urban issues ngrams

When we talk about cities, we talk about suburbs.

Local planning

When the future was Cleveland PARK

I do love the neon signs, though!

I think a number of people are perplexed as to why Sam’s Park & Shop in Cleveland Park is landmarked. Aside from the political pressure of a well-connected population dead set on preventing the density that would actually save their failing retail strip using historic preservation laws, the site does have some significance.

The Park & Shop was point along the trend to adapt retail architecture to modern conditions. In this page from the May 1932 Architectural Record, the author praised the Park & Shop in contrast to a traditional main street retail strip. He might as well have been describing the service lane block.

If only they'd bulldozed those awful storefronts the strip wouldn't be faltering!

I think a lot of people look back on the beginnings of autocentric planning  and think that the people who conceived it must have been deluded, but to them these choices seem eminently rational. A lot of people also seem to pin the autocentric turn on the Modern Movement and Le Corbusier in particular. This issue of the Record points in another direction: it is unequivocal about the need to redesign retail for the automobile, and merely reports on the International Style as an interesting trend in Europe with good goals.
If anything, Modernism was just a way to aestheticize the rationalist fixations of Modernity like efficiency, objectivity, or hygiene. After all, the first auto-oriented shopping malls were executed in historicist styles. The movement away from urban life began well before that, although Modernists certainly took it further.
It’s a complicated story, one that I don’t really know much about. Luckily, one of my professors, David Smiley, wrote a book about it. Pedestrian Modern, how the desire to accommodate the automobile and pedestrian safely crossed with American modernists’ interest in retail, before 1960s radicalism made that contaminated.
Our Park & Shop comes in towards the beginning of the story.
Architecture

Painting iconoclasm

After the reformation, the darkness of medieval churches came to symbolize pagan superstition as much as the icons. So, many churches were painted white, from the stone or from previous colored patterns. The bright, flat spaces were so cool painters, couldn’t help themselves.

 Pieter Saenredam, 1649.

 Pieter Saenredam, 1650.

Emanuel de Witte, 1661.

Emanuel de Witte, 1668.

Dirk van Delen, 1645.

Or, When the Cathedrals Were White, actually.

Russia Transportation

Sensing the Moscow Metro

Two students at the Strelka Institute, an design school in Moscow, took on scraping together personal data that could be found on the Moscow metro, extracting, like you do with raw data, proxies for meaningful relationships.

Their observation that people check in at their home metro stations most is interesting. The exciting part is that they built a device to measure stimuli and bodily response. This chart correlates a ride on the Sokolnicheskaya Line, also known as the “red line,” and set to 11 when it comes to Stalinist Architecture. Look at the chart:

It’s not really a new idea, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it applied to a subway system. The designers of the Washington Metro put a lot of thought into the sensory cues for riders, from the comfort levels in the cars, to the blinking lights that indicate a sudden blur of light and a darkening of the station.

They have some other ideas, which you can see in their presentation:

You can take a look at their arduino-based specifications here. Madeline Schwartzman’s book See Yourself Sensing is also worth a look.

 

Architecture planning

The Social Media of Small Urban Spaces

In the 1950s, it was a commonplace that urban spaces were inherently antisocial. These days, it’s a commonplace that smartphones are degrading the quality of public interactions. How things have changed!

It took the work of a few people to tease out a more nuanced view of urban life. Rather than looking at the form of cities in drawings, they looked at the people from the ground. These amateurs looked at how inhabitants used space and elaborated from there, rather than starting from ungrounded first principles.

A key player in this movement was William H.Whyte, a journalist by training. When senior editor of Forbes Magazine, he commissioned Jane Jacobs to write some of the articles that catapulted her to fame as a keen observer of public space. Seeing that she had discovered a fundamental flaw in urban planning, he built on her work with the kind of empirical discipline that worked wonders on bureaucrats.

Mostly, he looked for patterns and then examined those patterns in more detail. He used photos, film, charts, timers, and a lot of assistants. I’ve mentioned a film that catalogues his examination Mies’s Seagram Building in New York. Why did this tower in a plaza work, when so many others didn’t?

This kind of empiricism is exhausting, so it hasn’t been replicated much. But the New York Times today ran an article on the work of Keith N. Hampton, a sociologist at Rutgers who has tried to replicate William H. Whyte’s studies of how people use public spaces. With one twist: he was looking at how digital devices are affecting things. 

His results, like Whyte’s, significantly disrupt the conventional wisdom that the diffuse presence of social media are harming our relationships. Not refute, just call into question how idyllic things were before, and whether we’re simply seeing a shift, rather than a decline.

It’s definitely worth your time to read it.

Hampton has some further resources available too, such as his video of Kevin Roche’s steps at the Met, a vintage video from Whyte’s Bryant Park project, and a photoessay showing how people use computers in wifi-enabled parks.