Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Carnival of the Architects and Urbanists

Realizing that there were all sorts of blog carnivals dealing with recipes, digital cameras, and even knitting (!) I figured that a topic such as our surrounding built environment should be of interest to many readers. Below are some links that have been submitted to me as well ones that I’ve found which relate to architecture as well as views on the city and its design. Most of the writers featured are not architects or city planners but articulate the history and theories of buildings and cities far better than most design professionals (including a well known musician).

To begin, I’d like to make it known that architects and urban designers enjoy what they do because they are engaged in a creative enterprise. A dean of a local architecture school once told me long ago that whereas doctors and lawyers deal with people’s problems, an architect deals with people’s hopes and dreams. This may sound a bit too sentimental to those working in the trenches but ultimately I’m thankful everyday to be part of fulfilling improvements for the future. Nevertheless, architects and urbanists are often skeptical and even cynical about their own profession and self-worth.

A couple links display this quite well, where Tyler Durden, a new blogging architect from the U.K., laments the lack philosophical sophistication of younger architects. Computer drafting and 3d modeling have transformed the profession, seducing young students into generating handsome renderings and exploring new forms as they neglect to examine the ‘why’ to it all. His comments about ‘process’ should interest former students in architecture schools.

The Progressive Reactionary is another newcomer and thoughtful critic of on contemporary trends in architecture. One that he notices is the idea of wrapping planes the continuity of lines in elevation, and how construction undermines the honesty of these themes. He also links to Archinect’s interview with Charles Jencks, one of the most famous contemporary architecture critics (and author of a lovely volume about Le Corbusier), which discusses the value of architecture as icons.

At Partiv: Architectural Antifreeze, the culture of unpaid internships is up for a thrashing. The supposed ‘honor’ to work alongside a master architect seems to justify in young architecture graduates’ minds the willingness to work for free. This prevailing practice contributes to the relatively low pay that has historically awaited newbies to the profession.

The recent riots in France renewed debate on the influence of the built environment on the rise of destructive social pathologies. In addition to my own views on the subject, multifarious blogger extraordinaire Ed Driscoll writes about the decay of Europe’s suburbs with an examination of the Modernist Movement that influenced the look of these new urban (or anti-urban?) environments. Le Corbusier’s name seemed to surface often in such debates, as he was doubtless the Modernist’s most charismatic spokesman. Everybody seems to have their opinion on him, including none other than Talking Heads frontman David Byrne shares his own thoughts on the unrealistic assumptions of the Le Corbusier and the modernists.

In addition to the riots in France, the reconstruction of the Gulf Coast after Katrina was a topic of much speculation among design professionals. David Sucher, author of the book City Comforts: How to Build an Urban Village lets his views on the extent that New Orleans should be reconstructed be known. He also shares his displeasure with the flowery language used by architecture critics to describe buildings done by star architects.

Haroon at Avari/Nameh gives one of these star architects, Zaha Hadid, a drubbing for her latest project in Wolfsburg, Germany. Although he respects the Pritzker Prize winning designer for her Iraqi heritage, her aggressive deconstructive modernist style turns off many people who prefer more traditional styles.

Writer Lisa Schamess, who wrote a novel with an architect as the protagonist, tries her hand at interpreting the eccentric buildings of Betrand Goldberg. His Marina City towers on the Chicago River are iconic but Schamess senses that the architect’s idealism have a disturbing quality.

One example of the power of architecture tourism is provided by Sandouri Dean Bey over Aman Ayala. He recounts his experience visiting the Acropolis in Athens and the effect it had for seeing something that you had always heard about and seen in pictures.

Ginny at Chicagoboyz reviews Witold Rybcynski’s book Home and in so doing offers a beautifully written summary of the evolution of architectural philosophies and styles during the twentieth century. I recommend this article for any reader interested in getting up to speed on the changes in mindset and priorities that contributed to a radical departure in design in our recent history. Fellow blogger Ralph Goergens adds more intriguing insights to the nature of modernist urban planning regarding Europe. For what the great Frank Lloyd Wright would have proposed for ideal city plan, Not PC looks into Broadacre City, the inverse of the dense housing block neighborhoods proposed by his contemporaries in Europe.

Does a building that embodies contradiction make for great architecture? In an a development taking place in my own backyard, superstar Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas' design for a theatre in d0wntown Dallas sparks a discussion on the theme of contradictions over at Do You Want Some Coffee?

More links to blogs dealing with architecture and urbanism will be forthcoming in the months ahead.

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