Thursday, September 28, 2006

Even if Iraq is Breeding More Terrorists, Does that Make Terrorism Right?

With the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report pontificating that the “Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists”, I keep asking myself, “Was it so much better before that we should long for the good ol’ days before the Iraq war?” The way the information is presented and the way the MSM has loved reporting it hints that if the war were never waged, the terrorists would be perfectly happy being single-celled organisms working independently from time to time killing off the West. The way it’s been reported, one who didn’t think for themselves might believe that the cause is the Iraq War and effect is terrorism. Wrong. They might also think that because of the war, Muslims who never would have considered violence as a viable alternative to the influence of the U.S. have all of a sudden decided to hate our decadence and take action. Sorry, but that doesn’t hold water.

We apparently need to be reminded that this war was never about the short term. This is obvious both in its goals and its lack of short-term success; the planning for this arena was obviously weak. This was always a visionary conflict, one that would require massive amount of change, both functional and “adaptive,” in the language of change agents. The plan wasn’t simply to rid of terrorists; does anyone actually believe that Bush ever considered the war to be about that, and that alone? It is about the belief that democracy in the Middle East will encourage the people in their own country to demand reform from the extremists who have gained too much power while citizens were looking the other way. This is a long fight, and perhaps it is ridiculous to think these nations can ever change. The question is: was it worth the gamble? For our own security and for the security of those in the Middle East, I think it was.

Is it possible that the increase in jihadists has in fact proved W more right than ever? With every outrage these sensitive religious ideologues experience over the slightest criticism, or even the most serious criticism, their radical nature exposes itself more and more to be deeply at odds with what we call civilization. That Iraq is such a threat to their way of life, and that more jihadists are protesting it, doesn’t it prove that there will be no meeting of the minds with these extremists and the globalized world? And unfortunately, we no longer live in a world where can politely ignore each other, which seemed to be the case only 10 years ago. Advances in transportation and even the Internet have brought the jihadist threat further out of the woodwork so that it must be dealt with, either by them adapting to the standard of living the majority of the world wants, or by being defeated.

I was reminded the other day again of the horrors of the Thirty Year’s War, the result of Reformed Christians and Roman Catholics failing to peacefully resolve their differences. Perhaps this is the stage that Islam is in. After all, Islam is about 600 years “younger” than Christianity, and maybe this is the natural flow of such belief systems: civil war is necessary at certain points to define true doctrine, or to learn how to peaceably live together. I believe Bush’s goal in Iraq is to give the work of curtailing terrorism back to the people of the Middle East. Can they do it? Time will tell. That there are more jihadists since the Iraq War does not mean the answer is no.

For now, that Iraq is breeding more jihadists should come as no surprise, and it changes absolutely nothing, except prove the war’s necessity. It does not make terrorism a more valid or moral act and it in no way legitimates their violent ideology. If anything, the quote from the NIE report that directly follows the above quote carries a great deal of hope with it: “Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.” This should be the headline, not that more jihadists are being bred. In fact, the more that are bred, the better. There will be that much more to taste defeat, lose heart, and eventually be pushed aside altogether.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Keeping Out the Riff-Raff: the Morality of Sprawl

While browsing on the assorted web postings featured one day on Pajamas Media, I came across this brief essay by ‘sammler’ over at A Chequer Board of Nights and Day on the topic of zoning. The writer argues that neighborhood zoning is a way for settled citizens to control subversive behavior that threatens the stable moral foundations of most middle to upper class communities. With no recourse to policies of overt segregation, zoning that proscribes specific housing densities and economic activities was the one legal way for conformist communities to prevent deviant ways of life from emerging. The essay implies that while many of us value our freedom, few are willing to embrace it totally when making decisions on where we choose to live.

Freedom for many seems to involve rights, a belief that one is entitled to do and go wherever he or she wishes. For others, though, freedom often entails the choice to remove oneself from other people or objectionable conditions. When it comes to making decisions on where to dwell, it is often less a matter of what one wants than what one doesn’t want. Discrimination is fundamental to the way we make choices, although few would openly share some of the reasons they opted to leave in one area over others. We are free enough to exert a certain amount of control over the social environment we live in, but we are at the same time captive to others' efforts in denying us the right to live the way we’d like at a particular location.

Americans have tolerated life along the edge between freedom and the restriction of their own freedom for its entire history. Our country’s vast and relatively unexploited spaces have allowed us to wander and resettle ourselves far from troublesome places in our past. If your lifestyle was impeded by the surrounding community, the solution of moving away to a better future was always an option. The very lack of density in much of our territory has likely helped diffuse potentially violent social tensions that have commonly erupted in densely populated countries in old Europe. Everyone here is happy so long as one doesn’t have to put up with other people’s mess.

The dominant urban pattern since the rise of the industrial economy has been the out-migration of people from the city center out to the surrounding suburbs. Whether the reason for this is due to a desire for improved environmental conditions or a longing to own an affordable home, or to live near a good school district, it is important to consider factors that drove households away from their old city home. As most recent émigrés from the older major cities to the newer suburbs will tell you, there are many things cities can do to make living within ever more difficult and not worth the hassle. From blindly ensuring that their schools decline in quality to levying property taxes to fund inefficient and often corrupt municipal services, the flight of a city’s most productive citizens to the suburbs is, contrary to many critics of sprawl, a rational phenomenon.

Still, a problem won’t be necessarily solved if there is no assurance that it won’t emerge in the new location. Zoning restrictions have become the most effective guarantee against unforeseen problems migrating from undesirable locations. Seen as major hindrance by many contemporary urban designers, zoning laws were originally legislated to preserve property values by restricting the arbitrary construction of buildings that would cause surrounding properties to rapidly depreciate (e.g. dirty factories, dump sites) Zoning laws also helped control the amount of noise, the desired amount of open green space and the extent to which neighbors are willing to share their space with others. Because the aim of zoning is to ensure predictable stability of a place, there is little tolerance for urban experimentation, iconoclastic expression or any effort in adopting new visual identities. As communities grow, zoning makes sure they do not change in the way the community once saw itself at the time they implemented rules dictating that communicates supposed ‘character.’ This determination of what a community ‘is’ depends largely on what that community believes it isn’t.

One thing most community founders who create restrictions on future development don’t seem to want is for their community to change. It is obvious just from looking around from one new suburban development to the next that there is a set image that they would like to preserve, with every lot precisely defined to maintain a particular stylistic theme. Any individual deviation is forbidden, as harmony has supposedly been achieved in the new residential subdivision. As an enthusiast for dynamic and eclectic cities, I am no fan of zoning. One of my most beloved big cities is best known for its lack of zoning, and as a result offers a wealth of visual interest, contradictions, and unique spatial relationships that I find lacking in many newer suburban developments. Even as I myself live in an outer ring suburb of Dallas, I explicitly chose to live in an older neighborhood of a heterogeneous character. Each house is distinct from the other in spite of having been built within the last three decades, many of them transformed by major additions and other sorts of remodeling experiments. And still I’m reminded of the reason my neighborhood originally came into being, as an isolated retreat separated from the dirty sprawl of Dallas’s older established suburbs by a brand new reservoir lake. Soon my neighborhood would be joined by thousands of new homes elsewhere in the town, most of them governed by notoriously intolerant homeowners’ associations.

The fact is that most people aren’t like me. In spite of all the values we pretend to live by, such as being open-minded to all peoples and lifestyles, most of us would rather not be bothered at all. Keeping out the “riff-raff” through zoning is a way most of us would prefer to preserve the order we work hard to achieve. I believe it’s a natural impulse, one that in my opinion too few idealistic urban planners fail to appreciate. It is one thing to smugly suggest to people that living in greater density is a better way to live and it is dellusional to deny this truth. It is more important to understand the deeper social issues at work that define the reasons sprawl has be come the preferred pattern of human settlement in the U.S. It has become quite difficult for those who have internalized the density of the bustling city life to understand what satisfaction suburban life can bring. Enjoying a safe environment that is quiet, where neighbors share common values, where there is abundant parking, open day-care spots, efficient municipal services, large parks and small associations looks quite good to what city dwellers typically face: noise pollution, transient neighbors from who-knows-where, no parking, standing in a smelly train rubbing other bodies, over-loaded parks, failing schools, and a city bureaucracy that does its best to waste your tax contribution.

Sprawl is a physical manifestation of the priorities most people have when it comes to envisioning how they would like to live. Traditional urban typologies that include dense multi-story apartment blocks, row-houses, and zero-lot detached houses, though useful for many centuries have lost their appeal to spacious ranch-style homes, inconspicuously introverted low-rise apartment complexes, and the two-car driveway. The former typologies might be more attractive, more charming, or even more distinguished, but they no longer fill the needs of a majority of homeowners of today. It is less helpful if the older urban typologies become infested with gangs, the drugs and other criminal activities. The supposedly ‘superior’ architectural typologies embraced by designers are no match to the bland landscapes of the exurbs if social stability and comfort are not provided.

If cities are to win back those who have long left it for greener pastures, the best urban plans and the most attractively designed neighborhoods will be of little use. City leaders and their bureaucracies must assess what their city’s social values are, what is important to those they wish to move to their city. The mere value of tolerance for all of its citizens is often counterproductive. In a place where tolerance is the rule without any sort of moral standard or enforced distinction between better and worse, the more decadent elements in a diverse social environment always wins out. If those who wish to instill public virtue are undermined by relativist points of view regarding such virtues, a cherished diverse social fabric frays and disintegrates. The vitality of a city is not found in its diversity and tolerance alone. It requires the additional element of socially enforced moral standards that allow a modicum of order and predictability.

My parents have spent many long years as proud residents of some of theworld's most cosmopolitan cities. They love where they live and revel in all of the big-city amenities it offers and the convenience they enjoy in diving short distances to the most frequented spots in their region. But now they feel that they can’t bear living in their beloved city any longer. Their leaders and their city’s insipient political culture have made it clear that their opinions and wishes are of little concern to them. The values of civic virtue, and of patronizing the arts, of clamping down on crime or of teaching children well are not those of their home city. Their city does not care to serve them meaningfully. Rather the city functions to serve its most needy, its most helpless, its least contributing sector of its residence—those who exhibit the least civic virtue to strengthen their communities and improve the lives of younger generations. My parents feel used and don’t want to put up with such dysfunction. Now they hope to resettle in a better-run established suburb next door. For you aspiring urban planners, there’s little that buildings can positively change until public virtue reinserts itself into the broken fabric of so many older cities.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Commerce of Che

Isn’t it odd that in Europe, a land of towering intellectual icons, the image of Che Guevara, an ineffective South American rabble-rouser, would be as prevalent an image as the cross, the European Union flag, or even relics of European royal history? In the same countries that da Vinci, Luther, Bach, Goethe, and Michelangelo created masterpieces that would forever dictate the course of western civilization, an alien to Europe would have guessed that a bearded discontent lionized in a simple black and red portrait had more of an impact on the continent. Merchants everywhere sold his mug on t-shirts, and graffiti paid homage to the man lauded as socialism’s greatest guerilla warrior. It made me wonder again and again: what did this Che guy do that has allowed his influence to grow, four decades after his death, even in countries that had been failed communist experiments only a few years before?

Perhaps the most disappointing depiction of Che was on the Berlin Wall itself. Given the Berlin Wall’s infamy as a wall that forcibly kept people imprisoned inside a communist prison state, it is highly ignorant, or perhaps simply evil to depict a communist like Che in any sort of positive light here of all places. Of course, the fact that the Berlin Wall was an enforced border to keep people in has been lost on many in my generation. Peacenik sensibilities have led them to believe that all walls are bad, so they decry the building of any wall, be it one that would keep illegal immigrants out of the US, or one that keeps terrorists out of Israel. The Berlin wall was not one such wall; its building served one purpose only: to disallow those from the East to migrate to the West. But the irony is that this wall seems to be one that gets a pass. These communists have claimed it, in a sense, as one that was good because it preserved communism. It is, in a sense, the communist wailing wall, the last vestige of that deplorable religion where communists can gather together to mourn.

But my run-ins with Che were no limited to graffiti.While walking around Berlin we stumbled across some disenchanted communists who were protesting that communism as a political party was outlawed in Germany several decades before. And whose face did they parade as they silently protested for their right to be legal communists? Who else? Che! I would have respected these demonstrators more if they bothered to champion communists from German history, and they didn’t pick such a cliché like Che (I just noticed the pun). Alas, Che has made his way to Germany to champion guerilla warfare in a country that hates war, and is only now seriously studying WWII. The irony never ceases.

And who was Che, anyway? This article, a review of “The Motorcycle Diaries” gives a wonderful account of Che’s true legacy: failed coup attempts, labor camps (that were not exactly friendly to leftist causes like homosexuality and AIDS), and totalitarianism, all in a context of anti-catholic imagery he himself adopted. He was a champion of violence, yet somehow, his legacy is one of justice. Generations X and Y apparently find Che’s legacy appealing, but I would doubt many of them actually know anything about him. Do they ever consider that he was a terrorist, in the truest sense of the word? Would they parade around a t-shirt with a picture of Bin Laden on it? Or do they just hate America so much, and find the concept of communism sexy enough to adopt Che long enough for a superficial fashion statement?

It was not only Germany that Che was so popular but Italy as well. And not only in tourist traps and graffiti, but also in art. In Martin Luther’s very home is a painting of him sitting at a table with Che, as though Luther’s Reformation and Che’s revolutions were equitable. I started to wonder if I could go anywhere without seeing this guy!

What I find deliciously ironic is the popularity with Che among the bourgeois. As his shirts sell for $15-20, and a whole range of products from hats to backpacks to cigarette lighters make some entrepreneur very rich, I can’t help but feel that capitalism had the last laugh for poor little Che. Everyone from t-shirt vendors to book publishers and movie producers are making a mint off this guy, and I can’t imagine they have to pay many royalties to do it.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ughh! Why the Reconstructed Ground Zero has Become a Big Letdown

So five years on after that tragic day, Ground Zero in New York remains a big hole. After much back-and-forth, a final design has been approved for the Freedom Tower. Originally conceived to become the tallest building in the world, its height of 1776 feet will be all the less impressive compared to other skyscrapers coming on line, in particular when the Burj Dubai will be surpassing 2,300 feet. What once would have been a poetic crystal form has now become boring glass obelisk with a top spire that relates very little to the rest of building shaft below it. The spire’s only there to conform to the buildings final height, which in my book would never be considered part of that measurement. At least the Freedom Tower will not be the one of the simple boxes that characterized the old twin towers, but will likely function better and be more attractive than Minoru Yamasaki’s austere and lifeless environment of before.

A few days ago, designs for three neighboring towers at ground zero were unveiled. From the provided rendering, I’m sorry to say that I am quite under-whelmed at all the proposed towers. None of them indicate anything all too extraordinary, no formal innovation that has become characteristic of contemporary skyscrapers elsewhere. No attempts are evident in trying to incorporate technological features that allow tall buildings to produce their own energy, to realize amazingly complex geometries and conform to aerodynamic realities of the site. The potentially most disappointing fact is that these three towers were designed by the world’s best known ‘starchitects’, and rarely have I seen such uninspired design from Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Fumihiko Maki. I’m certain that special restrictions were placed on the designs for projects at ground-zero, from security to the laws of commercial real estate, but if these proposed schemes are the best such celebrated designers can come up with, it therefore proves that talent is as ephemeral and fickle in the realm of design as any other art. So far the assembly of towers seems to be no more captivating than the downtown skylines of countless American sun-belt cities.

Such subdued designs may be a testament to the ability for even the best architects to turn out real duds, but I suspect the mediocre architectural result at ground zero is more a problem of planning. The reconstruction at ground zero has been marred by an incoherent planning process, consisting of various state and city-sponsored committees, private civic groups, and the developer. The new Freedom Tower and its neighbors are good examples of the inadequacy of “design by committee”. When an architect has to work with a hydra-headed client, pleasing various conflicting factions, the resulting compromise logically produces an aesthetically compromised building. Rarely has design by committee ever produced worthwhile monuments and structures, since it reveals an unsettling fact about design that harmony-seeking people are loathe accept: Design is more an individual pursuit than a collective one. Design teams are less a collaboration among equals than a hierarchy in which one person conceives and the others enables his concepts.

The design of buildings is inherently undemocratic. The client is the only one that votes, so one hopes that he votes with quality and tastefulness in mind. Every built masterpiece we acknowledge today, from the great Roman monuments to Hausmann’s Paris, was the result of patrons, uninhibited by other municipal groups, sponsoring visionary designers they believed in. An individual patron can convey a simple purpose, which often begets a design driven by a more powerfully unified and coherent concept. In contrast, multiple patrons communicate competing and often contradictory purposes, resulting in a muddled scheme that tries to do too much. When certain groups can take responsibility making design recommendations without backing them up with their own pocketbook, it becomes too easy to be indecisive.

Taking financial responsibility for ideas to be implemented by the architect provides a welcome clarity and efficiency to the design process. This is why most architects prefer to be paid by one owner with one voice rather than answering to a committee that is not accountable to taxpayer-provided funds. Architects work better when the relationship with the client is simply structured. The only reason an architect is willing to deal with a committee is for prestige offered by prominent public buildings. Otherwise, architects would rather look for wealthy owners sympathetic to their design philosophy and willing to unload generous amounts of money to realize their ideas.

I suspect the architects for the towers (David Childs, Foster, Rogers and Maki) jumped at the chance in being able to contribute designs in the most well-known urban site in the world, with all of its recent historic and cultural significance, in exchange for submitting to the contradictory wills of ground zero’s various committees and clients. From my perspective, this understandable tradeoff has nonetheless lowered the esteem I once had for these once-great architects.

Note: Archidose shares his own mixed review of the new towers, finding particular merit in Foster’s diamond-topped tower.

Call for Entries: Do your peers at school or at work acknowledge the quality of your architectural renderings? Then maybe you have a shot at winning the 32nd Annual Ken
Roberts Memorial Delineation Competition. Entries are due by October 31st , and submitting an entry requires little hassle, so please visit the competition’s website, The competition is limited entries from the U.S. For a brief overview of the competition you can read my recent post here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

From Wittenberg to Rome: Retracing Luther’s Steps

It was decided early on that Italy was a non-negotiable for our honeymoon. After all, what is more romantic than a sunset gondola ride in Venice or a trek across the sun-kissed grape vineyards of Tuscany? Nothing, except, of course, Luther and J.S. Bach sites in the ever-efficient Germany or a visit to Vatican City in Rome. Of course. I’m still not sure how I convinced my wife to allow me to go to all the geeky spots I wanted to on our honeymoon, but, alas, she agreed. So off we went to Europe in search of sealing our married life together as well as some very interesting historical sites.

We started in Berlin, which was fascinating in the sense that it is clearly history in the making. With the Wall down only 15 years, and the disparity between East and West noticeable only in the bad socialist architecture leftover by the Soviets, seeing Berlin was seeing a work in progress, and it was light years away from the quaint historical towns we would stop in along the way. From here we went to Wittenberg to see the church door on which Luther (according to legend) nailed those infamous theses in 1517, the Wartburg castle he hid in for almost a year, and Erfurt, where Luther lived as an Augustinian monk, surpassing all of his peers in his obsessive eagerness.

Being in the lovely Wittenberg is close to being back in those innocent heady days where you can still imagine the naïve Luther spoiling for a good debate, but little more. Because the town is not close to Rome, was never sizable to begin with, and had housed Luther’s university for a mere 15 years, it is easy to imagine that Luther honestly never expected anything to come from the posting of those theses. It was little more than an intellectual game of chicken. (He won.) Wittenberg was, and is, an unpretentious place, a site one would never presume to be the setting for one of the most monumental singular events in western history (without overstating it a bit), and it reminded me that only one small act by Luther against the Roman church would lead him to denounce the entire papacy in a matter of years. And when princes started to latch on to his ideas, the politics got real messy real fast, and the Reformation achieved a life of its own.

But before the theses were ever posted, Luther made a trek through Germany and Italy to get to Rome on monastic business in 1510. It is debatable as to whether or not this trip began the Reformation in some sense: was Luther’s faith beginning to crumble as he witnessed debauchery and apathy among priests? Was he beginning to see Rome not as a Holy See but as a den of thieves? It is hard to say, because Luther himself didn’t speak about it for years, and by then he was thoroughly embittered by his experiences with the Roman church. Personally, I find it hard to believe this trip did not at least plant seeds of distrust that would ripen into powerful fruits in the years to come. But I can only comment on my own experiences, as a Roman-defending Protestant en route to the mother of all Catholic destinations. (And because reading someone else’s travel journal is beyond boring, I’ll keep it short and to the point.)

Here were my major points of contention as I moved closer to the Vatican. It became harder to tell who was being worshiped: Jesus, Peter (and his successors) or Mary. I get it, I understand, I love Peter and Mary too, and I know Romans love Jesus more than either. I did find the indulgence altars that still stand in churches a little discomforting (even though I understand it would be a historical sin to destroy them), the numerous offering boxes right by places to kneel and pray were disquieting, and the altars adorned with as much imagery of Mary and popes as Jesus were just awkward for me. “Solus Christus, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura” were the refrains that kept going through my head as I saw what I thought were distractions from these theological tenets. For example, I kept looking for the icon of Jesus as teacher (the one souvenir I sought), but I found Madonna and child way more often. And I also found it hard to accept the sheer opulence of the Vatican. I was torn between the realization that it was all supplemental (at best) to faith and my belief that aesthetic sensibility plays a huge role in the “proper” adoration of Christ. (This in an of itself will get a full post one day.)

Here’s what I love(d) about Rome: the city itself holds a fascinating tension between the secular dominance of the Empire that lingers with its ruins and the Catholic dominance that has been present since the Empire disintegrated. Seeing popes attempt to reclaim the Coliseum, or use its very marble for St. Peter’s is a surprising combination of historical powers. But it seems that, in the words of a friend of mine, popes today are finally reclaiming their role as pastor more than politician, which was all too rare in years gone by. (Our visit to Florence reminded me that too many Medici’s were popes. The politics of those appointments is rather disheartening.) And I, as a Christian, feel greatly indebted to Rome in a spiritual sense for its unwavering stances on doctrine, its reliance upon the Church Fathers, and its sheer volume of believers. The strength of John Paul II against communism and Benedict XVI against “the dictatorship of relativism” literally almost bring a tear to my eye. I owe them a great deal for their strength of character. If only such men were popes in Luther’s day!

To make a long post short, it was worthwhile to see in a span of two weeks the vast difference between the humble town of Wittenberg, Germany and the opulence of Rome. It reinforced again that no one in their right mind would believe what a self-loathing monk in a no-name town could accomplish with the help of good timing, political friends, and years of pent-up frustration among German and Scandinavian nobility with Rome. Just hearing the difference in the languages of German and Italian reminded me of the vastly different world Luther lived in from Rome. (It is true that they would have held Latin in common, though with noticeably difference accents, which can make a difference.)

This is not a total defense of Luther or a total condemnation of Rome by any means; it would have been preferable if Luther could have learned to keep his mouth shut, and if the Roman church had listened when valid criticisms were made. Alas, at least it’s a little clearer after following in Luther’s steps. Well, as much as I can on a 168 km/hour train.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Carnival of the Architects and Urbanists, 3rd Edition

It's been a while since I rounded up a whole host of postings from the architectural blogosphere. Below are some more interesting items from my other blogs you should visit:

* While the major media outlets have devoted many resources covering the after math of Hurricane Katrina one year after, there is still a big hole in the ground in Manhattan five years after 9/11. Lawhawk looks at the ongoing conflict between the World Trade Center's main tenant, Larry Silverstein, and the government hierarchy represented by Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg. I find that many aspiring architects forget the fact although they are part of a creative profession, they do not initiate the will to create the built environment. That is the privilege of the client, whose vision and energy is facilitated by the achitect.

* Care for some Singaporean wisdom on rejuvenating your home? Visit the Home Rejuvenation Blog. As a note of disclosure, I lived in the "City of the Lion" as a child for six years. It's probably one of the best places in which a kid could grow up: clean, crime-free, the most exotic food around, the most courteous people, and great family diversions (zoos, bird sanctuary).

*Architecture should often be comfortable. And yet so many designers forget the value of ergonomics.

*Mark Waldo shares his experience with OMA's new Seattle Public Library. For those readers unaquainted with the current trends in architecture, the Office of Metropolitan Architecture founded by Rem Koolhaas is responsible for some of the most stimulating if bizarre architecture in recent times.

*An example of a building ahead of its time, or was it? Asplund's Stockholm Public Library exhibits a pared-down neoclassicism that looks almost downright Post-Modern a la Michael Graves.

*All architecture students strive to assemble the perfect model for their projects. But what if one's models could be transformed in the same way as old cars are revamped as in the show "Pimp my Ride"? Welcome to "Pimp My Model"... Hattip: Mirage Studio

*East Coast Architecture Review highlights the latest innovations in skyscraper design as demonstrated by SOM's projects in China. I've visited the Chicago office of Skidmore Owings and Merrill recently and can attest to the breathtaking designs that have been commissioned by Chinese developers.

*There's a gorgeously elegant new Miesian glass pavilion in Toledo, of all places. Life Without Buildings cites the building's glowing reviews. Progressive Reactionary shares more photos and thoughts on Japanese firm SANAA's new gem.

*Mad Architect of Architechnophilia provides the straight dope on Jamaican Modernist architecture.

*New Orleans architect Kinch declares: "As I have posted before, the rebuilding of New Orleans should be driven by the residents and the planning process, slow as it may be, is going about it the right way. This city is almost 300 years old and it wont be rebuit in one." Read on his insights regarding the planning process in Post-Katrina New Orleans.

*When Wright can be Wrong- Archizoo links to an articles on the flaws typical in many Frank Lloyd Wright houses as well as to another blog (BELT) argues that Wright was one of the twentieth century's greatest artists as opposed to one of its greatest architects. Ecology of Absence reconsiders Wright's achievements and compares them to his mentor, Louis Sullivan.

*Why can't Architecture be evaluated like the Fine Arts? "Do You Want Coffee?" offers an explanation.

*Norman Blogster invites you to vote in an informal poll as to which nominated project should win the Stirling Prize. He's interested to see how mere fancy pictures can influence one's opinion on an unfamiliar building. Hattip: Archidose

*BLDGBLOG examines the potential of airports becoming the center of new and highly effician urban agglomerations. The geometry of the layout of most airport terminals seem to have an unintended neo-lithic quality--fascinating...

*The architecture of mosques embodies pure prismatic volumes, an austere interplay of light and shade, and meticulous detail. Mercedes Afshar shows you what to look for when appreciating this building type.

*Although I have never been sympathetic to Russia's October revolution, the ferment in architectural ideas during that transitional period has proved to be influential in understanding current formal trends. Alas, the eccentric home of one of Russian Constructivism's most prominent visionaries is under threat to be demolished. I'm sure some good private funds could renovate this unique building.