Tag Archives: books

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.
Other

Space(frame) Cowboy

I am easily amused

Spaceframe system designer Wendel R. Wendel poses with two node systems he designed. Page 105 of Technology and the Future of the US Construction Industry. AIA Press, 1984.

Architecture Local

Learn more about DC architecture

The newest edition of the AIA Guide to the Architecture of Washington, DC has been published. This came as a surprise to me, since I bought the last edition just two months before the new one came out. Alas. The rate that the guides are reappearing has been shrinking by half. The Second Edition came out in 1974, Third in 1994, Fourth in 2006, and now Fifth in 2012, with guidebook singularity expected sometime in 2018. This may seem excessive, but it kind of makes sense. DC was losing buildings left and right in 1994, but between 2006 and 2012, DC has seen an unprecedented boom in high-end buildings. Flipping through my sad, obsolescent 4th edition, it’s clear there’s a lot missing.

For example, the 2006 guide has these inadequacies:

No, actually, there have been a lot of architecturally notable buildings built in DC over the past six years. Looking back, it’s kind of insane how much capital was invested in DC real estate. If you’re more interested, G. Martin Moeller, the author, was on Kojo Nnamdi’s show last week. The interview is worth listening to, if you’re unfamiliar with the guide. And the guide is definitely worth having and understandable to the laity.

Architecture Russia

“Death and Life” Published in Russian

Jane Jacobs’ seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, is now available in Russian by the house Novoe Izdatelstvo. I think this is pretty remarkable that it took so long, but the editor says that it’s appearing at the right time.

In translation, the title is Смерть и жизнь больших американских городов. Literally, that means “The Death and Life of big American cities.” That, to me, loses the valorizing nuance of the word “Great,” but maybe the fancier translation of the word, “великие” has too much Stalinist baggage, or perhaps my reading of the title is wrong. Either way,they say translation is tricky.

In an interview with the Strelka Institute’s blog, the editor of Novoe Izdatelstvo provides his own example:

This issue arises first and foremost with relation to one of the central concepts of Jacobs’s book: the neighbourhood (in our book, “okrug“, or “district”). The word “neighborhood” taken literally means something like one’s personal area, an urban habitat, the borders of which are determined not by the government but by one’s own typical routes of travel, one’s everyday needs and habits, and so on. This word is difficult to translate into Russian precisely because this way of conceiving space doesn’t really exist in our cities.

For the unfamiliar, the term “okrug” is much more of a legal category, like an ANC, that reached its modern meaning during the era of hyper-centralized Soviet housing estates. One other part of the interview stood out to me, where the editor, Andrey Kurilkin remarks:

I would say that this book is like a new optical instrument that allows you to see complex processes where only yesterday you noticed nothing at all. Our intuitive conceptions of a conveniently designed city, with small streets, parks, a local butcher shop across the way, old buildings, and a convivial street life are given a logical and vigorous theoretical foundation.

Jacobs and her work have suffered from creeping hagiography, so it’s good to see the author reinforcing the intention that the book be a tool for understanding, rather than a prescriptive manual.

You can read the introduction here (PDF), and I recommend the other book mentioned in the interview, Seeing Like a State.

Local Other planning

North of Tilden: Rock & Roll, P&P, and Lord & Taylor’s

Three minor news items in the Upper Northwest:

sweater-set
The Sweater Set get ready.

1: The first two Fort Reno concerts were a smashing success, with at least 300 people showing up to listen, eat, and frolic on the grass around the stage. Monday night’s show was a fun mix of different styles. The Sweater Set delivered on their ultra-indie promise to give a twee multi-instrument set. Funk Ark played some solid 70s funk that made the sudden arrival of a Park Police car seem a little too like a cop movie, especially when teens started fleeing the concert with black plastic bags. Lastly Pash led the night out with a harder energy, although the lead singer’s vocals were drowned out in the mix, which took away a lot of the melody.

The second night began with noon:30, who added some soul-like vocals to cool and muddy indie rock. They’re having an EP release party on July 4th. Meow vs. Meow followed up with a harder sound with a lot of strong rhythm. Lastly, the Electricutions played the crowd out, just after the sun had totally left the horizon. There’s another show this Monday and another on Thursday, but more on that later.

friendship-home-plate
Plenty of potential connectivity.

2: National Realty & Development, the owners of Lord and Taylor’s, have announced plans and received approval to build a one-story commercial building on the “home plate” parking lot behind Mazza Gallerie. The Northwest Current’s reporting mentions that the original lease between L&T’s and Mazza called for the parking lot to be used as a car park in perpetuity. Now, the unanimous and quick vote of the council is to turn it into a walkable shopping district, competing with the deluxe stores along Wisconsin Avenue. Could still have some height on top of that, but apparently the 50-year lease ends in 15 years, so development won’t have enough of a payoff for them. Completion of the five stores is expected for early 2011.

3: Politics and Prose, the cultural institution at the border of Tobago and Chevy Chase, announced its schedule for July/August. You can look at the schedule, but here are the authors presenting books on urban issues:

  • Wednesday, July 8th, 7PM: Alyssa Katz will discuss her book on the foreclosure and mortgage crisis, Our Lot.
  • Friday July 10th, 7PM: Reloville, by Peter Kilborn, examines large subsets of suburban residents whose livelihoods depend on not forming close ties to the local community and frequently moving on to a new job.
  • August 11th, 7PM: Jane Jacob’s struggle with Robert Moses, and the issues it was born of, are retold in Anthony Flint’s Wrestling with Moses.

Maybe I’ll see you there. It’s not too accessible, but you can take the L1,2,4 or the M4 from Van Ness and Tenleytown Metro stations, respectively.

Architecture

Three interesting things

Metropolis ran an article online discussing the unorthodox business model the firm Delle Valle Bernheimer employs. They have begun integrating development into their portfolio, realizing that controlling all elements of a project essentially cuts a lot of inefficiency from the process of getting something you care about built. In addition to giving them a high degree of control in regards to design and quality, it tempered their exuberance by bringing issues of engineering, cost, budgeting, and dealing with problems into their realm, on their bottom line.  Their strategy is not new – it’s a standard practice called design-build-operate/maintain – but this is one of the first boutique architecture firms to employ it. 

But back wen DB were just getting started, a depraved genius named Zak Smith managed to produce illustrations of each page of the book Gravity’s Rainbow. Somehow, he  managed to sit down and produce 760 works of art, in multiple media, depicting pretty much everything that happens in the book, in some way or another. I haven’t had a look at the whole thing, but the sheer amount of creativity would make an edition of Thomas Pynchon’s book with these drawings a worthwhile purchase.

And also terms of good (early) works, Metropolis has nicely been hosting blog posts about Yale’s First-year house project, where they also design-build a house for a local rent-to-own program.