The more I’ve written for Greater Greater Washington, the more I’ve realized that I need to write for a different audience here than I do there. At the least, I’d like to be more specific about architectural issues here and write about its intersections with DC and Upper Northwest on Greater Greater Washington.
So, I’ve decided to stop cross-posting articles from GGW other than ones that are themselves pretty specific to discussions of architecture, for example, the Architects on the Height Limit series. However, I will periodically link to the articles I’ve contributed to for readers who don’t read GGW.
When NPR moved its headquarters in April, the music division had little fun with the trip. They called up the band OK Go to make an episode of the Tiny Desk Concert series. The results are pretty cute:
But, being a writer for GGW, I couldn’t help but notice all of the recent construction and development! You get a great look at the variety of the city as they move from Mt. Vernon Square to North Capitol Street.
NPR’s real estate history matches Washington’s economic changes over the past 40 years. When it was founded in 1971, its offices were at 16th & I Streets, next to the brutalist First Church, which was the core of DC’s declining downtown. It’s first purpose-built offices were on M Street in the West End, which lasted until NPR moved to the then-dilapidated Mt. Vernon Square in 1994. Now that downtown real estate prices spread north and east, they’ve relocated to a building in NoMa, designed by DC-based firm Hickock Cole.
Also, the drunk history of DC is hilarious. They desperately need one for Col. L’Enfant’s sad, sad story.
Just a reminder that GGW and Ward 3 Vision are hosting a happy hour at Guapo’s in Tenleytown tonight from 6:30 to 9. Come by, check out the many positive changes around the neighborhood, and have a drink or two. There will be surprise guests.
How to get to Guapo’s:
The easiest way to get to Guapo’s is to exit through the south entrance of the station and take a right until you’re back on Wisconsin. Walk north toward the Domino’s and the blue-striped building. Guapo’s has a large patio with a big neon sign. Go in and come upstairs!
Greater Greater Washington will be hosting a happy hour in Tenleytown, co-sponsored by Ward 3 Vision later this month.
We will be Guapo’s at 4515 Wisconsin Ave, Tuesday, April 27th after 6:30 pm. If you live in Tenleytown, I hope you can come by on the way from work, or take a moment to go home beforehand. The event is in the upstairs room, and we have margarita and beer specials.
If you don’t live in the area, you should come as well. Not only will you meet many of the GGW contributors, you can meet other residents who have been working hard to make Upper Northwest a more livable place for all ages. I know that it’s far from downtown, but the restaurant is just steps away from the Tenleytown-AU metro station.
Tenleytown has undergone a number of positive changes over the last year, so if you can come out early, you might actually take a look around the neighborhood.
Уважаемые дамы и господа, I’ve made a few changes around the sides and back pages of this blog. The Good Posts page has had some things added, while the About page has gained some more text and lost its cat.
Outside of DC, I’ve added faslanyc and Free Association Design, both frequent readers of Mammoth. Also, you can click through to Polis, a blog that covers global urbanism. With one Polis contributor, Peter Sigrist, we will be beginning a small dialogue about Soviet architecture. Check out his series of posts on the parks of Moscow, which will give you a solid night’s worth of fascinating reading.
The debate over DC streetcars has heated up again with a new alliance against DDOT’s plans to install in-ground rails.
In a press release today, the Organization for Moderate Growth With Trackless Functioning and Better-than-Bus Quality announced that they would oppose any technology reliant on a guideway built into the streets of DC. The organization emphasizes the damage rails would do to the historic character of the roads within the Federal City. “Pierre Charles L’Enfant,” the statement reads, “never imagined streets crisscrossed by hideous steel rails. Maps from his period show clean, smooth streets with no indication of any disruptions of the classical beauty of the surfaces.”
Proponents of ground-supported streetcars have emphasized that rail-based vehicles did once crisscross the city. However, the press release seeks to preempt this criticism by arguing that that was an unfortunate aberration. “Washington, DC has a strong tradition of rail-free streets dating back to 1964, when city fathers fought hard to eliminate the unsightly and segregated street-rail system in favor of more democratic buses. Even in the transit-friendly times of the 1950s, the general public recognized that surface rails were an affront to America’s cultural heritage.”
Margarita Masguerra, a representative of OMGWTFBBQ insists her group fully supports the construction of streetcars. “The petition we are circulating emphasizes that we want to see diverse transit options for residents. Buses are not enough, sure. But streetcar tracks would be so devastating to the city’s image of large automobile boulevards that we want DDOT to stop and consider other options. “In Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, and Ponca City, OK, systems have been explored that employ no rails at all,” she continued, “Although we do not understand how these systems work.”
“Certain models from Boston and Philadelphia apparently hang from wires suspended above the line, creating the strongly defined structure that our organization recognizes as attracting growth.” Ms. Masguerra pointed out the results she had seen, but commented, “Speaking only for myself, I have been to Amsterdam and Dallas, and had there not been any rails, I think the streets with cafes and buildings could have been really nice places.”
Support for the group’s petition has come from a wide range of interest groups. Lon Anderson of the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the American Automobile Association questions the need for surface transit. “OMGWTFBBQ are too polite about the nonsense logic of these railroad people. If they want streetcars, can’t they just put more rails in the subway?”
Other opponents have raised the danger that in-ground tracks might pose to pedestrians. The increased incidence of tripping and stubbed toes is a genuine concern for small-footed locals. Amanda Hess, writing in the City Paper‘s Sexist blog, commented that “rails may disproportionately harm women, who are much more likely to be wearing heels,” saying that the supporters might have darker motives.
“The image of a woman fallen onto the tracks merely recapitulates a sexist image of a woman in need of saving before a big scary train. Sorry, the train died with vaudeville. No doubt, there are many “Nice Guy” transit fans just waiting for this possibility. Just because you help a woman up, doesn’t mean she wants you to take her back to your apartment for a little dissertation on railway signaling. Trust me, she probably doesn’t want to see your lunar signal, vintage or not.”
But even OMGWTFBBQ is willing to compromise and look at a variety of systems. The petition highlights the Wuppertal Schwebebahn, which suspends its rails in the air. “It’s a great system.” Masguerra says, “They’re hardly visible from the ground.” Another system mentioned is the Demontierbares Klappenschienenschutzsystem under consideration in Tübingen, Germany and Alexandria, Egypt. That technology employs panels that cover the rails when a train is not nearby. The tops of the panels can be inlaid with various road materials. When a train approaches the section of track, the panels lift up to reveal the rails and close when the train leaves. Also featured was Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik‘s guided semi-rigid airship system, which has been installed between 25 malls and 14 skyscrapers in Dubai.
Masguerra insists that her organization’s sole interest is in improving transit in the DC area. “Again, I just want to reiterate that we want to see streetcars in Washington,” she says, “And we’re committed to exploring all options to make that happen without rails.”
One: First, let’s start with what’s in the room. My friend Anna at NOMOFOMO informed me of the publishing of a rather serious book about John Cage’s rather infamous piece 4’33”. The plainly titled book, it turns out, is by Kyle Gann, probably one of the most famous people ever driven off of Wikipedia. Hopefully the book will cool some of the really obnoxious commentary that trots its tired ass out whenever you mention the piece. On a related note, I was at the Smithsonian American Art Museum when some man wearing a North Face vest walked into the room with his brood and began ridiculing the works as “The Painter who Couldn’t draw curves, The Painter who Couldn’t Draw Faces, the Painter Who Didn’t Care,” repeated smugly for several minutes. Unfortunately for his smugness, we were in a gallery entitled, GRAPHIC MASTERS III. There were no paintings so … no painters either, boss.
Two: Anyway, over in my neighborhood, Richard Layman wrote a simple piece in regard to the recent efforts to build a streetcar on Wisconsin Avenue – and the consequent vicious opposition. The arguments are not that new, but he does break down the current bogeyman that guided transit will be hopelessly snarled up by obstructions. His point: it happens more often on highways, and can be minimized with design. On that note, and getting much bigger (153 comments at writing), is the thread on DCMud about the Safegate Pause.
Three: Moving out to the general idea of the neighborhood, Kaid Benfield penned a remarkably concise and thoughtful definition of Transit-Oriented Development. He emphasizes the oriented part, making the point that it’s the way the neighborhood and buildings facilitate transit use and walkability that is most important. It’s worth a read.
Four: Getting a lot bigger, Mammoth covers mammothly (as they promised) the best architecture of the decade. Unlike so many lists of flashy blingitechture and navelgazing critiques of said blingitechture and excess, the list contains projects emblematic of new directions in architecture. Included is the Large Hadron Collider, cheap manifest-traditional housing, Chinese High Speed Rail, geoengineering, and using good design to recover from years of terror. After reading it, I feel like calling this next decade for Latin America.
Five: Finally, getting into centuries and abstract ideas, Kirk Savage will be doing a live chat tomorrow on Greater Washington. Savage is the author ofMonument Wars and Standing Soldiers Kneeling Slaves. The latter book is about the depiction of slavery in public art. The former traces the role of the monument in America over two hundred years as the changes played out in Washington, DC. I’m only about halfway through the book, but it is really good. He puts an impressive amount of information about monuments, memory, and architecture into a genuinely enjoyable read. I don’t have enough thoughts at the moment, but there will be more coming from it.
Until 1 PM Tuesday, you can always submit questions at this page, and I’ll let you go with some bonus Eames:
Last week, I published the McMillan Two concept, after hearing about it on the Kojo Nnamdi show and interviewing the designer, Nir Buras. I’ve been pretty excited by the dialogue – the post of GGW received 88 comments and several thousand views. Others have jumped in.
…Mammoth, who delivered a strident critique of the more Eurocentric and anti-wetland flaws in the proposal. I commented on the article, and the exchanges between me, J.D. Hammond, and Rob Holmes are all good dialogue. The example of the Port Lands project in Toronto is worth examining in depth.
Straßgefühl, the only other blog whose name rivals mine, offers a counter-proposal based on the Sumidagawa river in Tokyo. The post opens up a new direction of thought, but it’s marred by insisting that Buras would be building a pseudo-historical development, since the proposal has no pretensions of history.
But it is great to see this kind of dialogue happening. The issues of nature, tradition, environment, autonomy, and culture have a lot of intersections not yet explored. The only thing everyone agreed on: tear down the highways. Interesting, no?
In “Eyes That Do Not See,” Le Corbusier noted that airplane designers were unable to achieve heavier-than air flight until they understood the underlying issues of aeronautics – until they had posed the problem correctly. Until the tinkerers stopped imitating birds and kites and began investigating lift in a scientific way, they just produced spectacular failures and beautiful dreams. So, when looking through the finalists to the Reburbia suburban redesign contest, it was curious to see how, although many projects owe a debt to the Swiss architect, a great deal show confusion about the problems of “suburbia.”
Reburbia was a design competition where designers were invited to remodel, reuse, redevelop, and restructure the landscape of suburban development. Sponsored by Inhabitat and Dwell, the contest presented 20 finalists and a number of other notable entries for public viewing. Although they’ve already announced winners, the issues that appear in the submissions deserve more discussion. These open competitions are like fashion shows, where the offerings exist as inspiration for other designers more than practical solutions. Some of the ideas tossed around here might make their way into an abandoned mall, but the ideas that grow out of Reburbia are more important. As architects, planners, and citizens look for solution, we have to keep in mind what the problems are to judge any given solution.
Declaring that the suburbs need to be re-burbed begs the question of how much, and which kinds, of suburban development are unsustainable, undesirable, or inefficient. Following that line of thought, designers need to consider whether mitigation of costs can solve an issue, whether simply pulling out unfair subsidies would help, or whether a total revamp has to occur. The projects in Reburbia revolved around a handful of issues that are unique to automobile-dependent sprawl, as well as others that all cities face. The entrants posed their problems around land use, energy waste, sustainable energy production, loss of natural habitats, low density, unappealing or unwalkable street design, transportation inefficiency, water runoff, and the legal mandates for development.