Thursday, March 30, 2006

Integrating with the Mississippi

Please read here about an alternative solution to the re-building of New Orleans.

Anuradha Mathur, a professor of landscape architecture at Penn Design, questions the engineering of segregating infrastructures, ie levees and flood control, and the addictions we have to such structures.

Hat tip to my brother.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


Some readers of the blog (and blood relatives) have questioned the veracity of learning about urbanism through the study of NASCAR events. I think the rub of the disagreement does not reside in the vehicle of study, but rather the definition of "urbanism."

I , like many of my educational generation undoubtedly influenced by our dynamic fields of study, possess rather liberal definitions of "urbanism." Urbanism does not soley reside within the boundaries of a James Kunstler or Jane Jacobs definition. Our "urbanism" is more interested in the flows of capital, commerce, politics, entertainment, knowledge, etc. and how such flows inform the built environment. By claiming a prejudice towards these issues, I do not dismiss the delight of walkable cities, the pleasant shade of tree-lined streets, or the comfort of the American front porch. I have my favorites.

Yet, there are lessons to be learned, yes, by such horrifically dense places like New Dehil and Lagos, as Rem Koolhaas and his studios at Harvard have discovered. Teddy Cruz pursues housing research at the compressed US-Mexican border, which later informs his architectural and urban projects. Wal-Mart parking lots. Amusement parks. Malls. And on and on.

What is your definition of "urbanism"? It is a very easy question that will solicit scores of contradictory answers.

Cleveland State chooses . . . Gwathmey?

Add Cleveland State University, "Cleveland's Graduate School," to list of "leading" Cleveland institutions again running for other coasts to find their architects.

This time, Cleveland "leader," President Michael Schwartz picked Gwathmey Siegal of New York to design a new student center on campus. Given the chance and the project money, many Cleveland architects can compete on the level of their east coast competitors, er, colleagues.

Where is the Cleveland AIA in promoting the skills and talent of Cleveland architects to leading Cleveland institutions?

You hear that. Exactly. You hear nothing but the rush of design fees flowing eastward.

Hat tip to Improvised Schema.

Multiplicities of the Wal-Mart

Wal-Marts seems to be resented and worshipped, well, for being Wal-Mart. Liberals consider the retailer the scourge of American society and conservatives render the revenue monster as the ultimate reification of unadulterated capitalism.

Like airports, truckstops, and hospitals, these big box behemoths and the attached parking lots host vast cross-sections of American society simulataneously, daily, hourly. And because of the rather pluralisitc compostion of the customers, these complexes are the sites for many other activities besides commerce.

See the attached story here about a college kid who lived, unnoticed, in a Wal-Mart for several days. See another story here about the symbiotic relationship between Motorhome wanderers and Wal-Mart parking lots. I disovered the Motorhome relationship while reading Sunday Money, a book documenting a year following the NASCAR circuit around the country.

Monday, March 27, 2006

NASCAR Urbanism . . .

As friends of mine have testified in their design research, NASCAR events are great, hulking, boisterous, and temporal events of intense, bawdy, and dense urbanism. Within the pulsing confines of these masses of drinkin, bawlin', and racin' there are lessons to be learned. Tom Wolfe figured that out back in the 1960's with "The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!"

These gatherings, that easily double or triple the duration, size of a typical Browns or Packers tailgating Sunday, are ripe for further study and intellectual exploitation. Like it or not, the energy and dynamism of American culture, commerce, and zeitgeist, are located in places like Bristol, Tennessee and Talladega, Alabama.

No Prada-wearing architects allowed.

Cleveland Institute of Art goes out of town also . . .

Another Cleveland institution is looking far and abroad for architects instead of looking down the street.

CIA has a short-list of MVRDV, Krueck + Sexton, Scogin Elam, and Studios Architecture.

Again, I do not deny the impressive portfolios and talent of the shortlisted architects. But I do again highlight the hypocrisy of Cleveland's elite telling us to "Believe in Cleveland," as they go shopping for architects and designers elsewhere.

See Steven Litt's story on the re-treading of the CIA here.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Teachers who influence . . .

Alexander Gorlin has an article at Metropolis about some of his teachers in architecture school.

I had that great fortune of "learning" from some of these guys also at Yale.

I can attest to the daily pychological battle with Eisenman and one's self during his profound, confusing, maddeninng, seemingly listless design studio. Although I hated the studio while involved in the weekly scrambles to produce "architectural viruses," with hindsight I nonetheless believe that the studio has most potently influenced my architectural thinking.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Monorail, Monorail . . .

There is a new infrastructural idea floating around LA . . . a monorail.

See Ray Bradbury's (of Farenheit 451 fame) opinion in the LA Times here.

Read all about monorails here.

The Simpsons take on the monorail.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Kent State investing in urbanity . . .

Good news from Steven Fong, the new Dean of Kent State's College of Architecture and Environmental Design.

Fong is looking to bring the entire CAED graduate program up to Cleveland.The city of Cleveland has lacked such a nexus of architectural and urban design dialogue since Case shut down its architectural program in the 1970's.

Case should also think about re-starting their program--the university already possesses world-class medical , law, and business schools. A graduate level program, more theoretical and research based, would compliment the very professional Kent State program. Given Case's academic credentials, the school could recruit a very capable leadership and faculty, very much akin to its Ivy League brethren.

Congrats to KSU for investing in the city and the elevation of architectural discourse Downtown.

Cleveland trying to be New York . . . again

Since Cleveland's downtown streets are somewhat desolate on weekends (as I can attest when working on weekends), the makers of Spiderman 3 have chosen to utilize Cleveland for some urban, second-unit shots.

So it is again interesting/funny to see people atwitter and rolling the red carpet out, with discounts and financial incentives, to another outside organization.

It is a shame that only in the backgrounds of a Spiderman movie will Euclid Avenue, the former Millionaire's Row of John D. Rockefeller, actually come to life.

On the upside, we did beat out Detroit.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Want to feel insignificant?

Last night I finished reading Radical Evoluion by Joel Garreau, also the author of Egde City.

The book bascially talks about the ever-accelerating rate of techonological progress, specifically in the realms of nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and robotics, and how the advances will alter our very near futures and what it means to be "human."

Garreau taps the minds of three scientists-innovators-visonaries, Jaron Lanier, Bill Joy, and Ray Kurzweil, and their respective renderings future scenarios.

After reading about this subject, I begin to lament the slow, lumbering, un-neccesarily tradition-laden, and hierarchically flawed profession of architecture.

But then again, I could just be bitter today.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Roebling + Roebling's secret . . .

Remnants of the Cold War civil defense era are found in one of the most iconic works of American urbanism and infrastructural design.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Cleveland trying not to be Cleveland

Here is a humorous column in Cleveland Scene about local media critically obsessing about the New York-ness of new neighborhoods and establishments.

Again, Cleveland is not New York, nor should the city try to emulate any other place besides Cleveland. Long live Drew Carey and Bernie Kosar!

Hat tip to Bradford, once again.

"We are still trying to get over modernism"

An erstwhile professor from my formative undergrad years uttered that phrase ,while imbibing a good amount of Yeungling Lager, to some former students, including the Doctor, one spring night two years ago.

And it has rattled around in my head ever since.

Here is a review of the exhibition Modernism: Designing a New World 1914-39 at the Victoria and Albert museum in London, which sheds some light on utopia vs. reality.

Hat tip to compatriot Bradford.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Cleveland . . .Green and Drunk Urbanism

As the St. Patrick's Day Parade ambles down Superior Avenue, 20-some floors below me, I wish that everyday in dowtown Cleveland would seem so lively and "urban."

It is a shame that the city is only alive on St. Patrick's Day, Browns and Indians home games, the Air Show, and when the Cleveland Orchestra plays on Public Square on the Fourth of July.

Once again, Cleveland's elite go elsewhere

Instead of utilizing emerging local design talent, or at least opening the door for the commission through an open competition, the selection committee of the Cleveland Museum of Contemporary Art has created a shortlist of all out-of-town architects: Office dA, Michael Maltzan, SHoP, Reiser + Unemoto, Studio MDA, and Foreign Office Architects. See the Plain Dealer article here.

While I am not denying the talent, portfolios, credentials, and potential of the shortlisted firms, I am again angered by the hypocrisy of the so-called Cleveland leading elite who seek "Believe in Cleveland," yet run to the coasts to find their boutique designers. It was quite telling that even the selection meeting was held in New York and not in Cleveland.

If Cleveland seeks to bolster it's "creative class," the city and its leaders need to be conscious to invest in local design talent, offering architects and affiliated professions a reason to reside in the area.

By the way, if I had my choice, I would pick either Office dA or Michael Maltzan.

Improvised Schema concurs.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Doctor Column No.1 . . . Parking Lots to the Sky

Sometimes, as an architect, you learn through direct intellectual intercourse with those at the vanguard of architectural pursuit, either through personal engagement , a pilgrimage to a building, or a reading of a text. But most times, the convergence of the coincidences of everyday life place you within a particular circumstance that illuminates the mundane, rendering a space, building, landscape into a potent vessel of instruction.


Such a circumstance occurred to me the other day. I was late getting into work. The later you get into Downtown Cleveland, the less likely you will be able to get a parking spot in a lower-cost parking garage. And to make things even worse, over the past weekend, another parking garage, across from my normal parking structure, closed. So the demand for parking spaces went up, while the supply stayed the same. Prices went up a quarter per day, and the garage became much more crowded, much earlier in the morning. So as a consequence, instead of parking on the fifth level, I was parking up on the roof, seven levels into the Cleveland skyline.


So I get out of my car and start walking to the stairs. But then I realize that I am standing on the top of a building which is open to the unusually blue Cleveland March sky. I pivot around and can see everything south of the city, over to Jacobs Field, down to the upper levels of Playhouse Square, and over the sea of asphalt parking lots down East 14th. I can see the city from a different perch, watching Cleveland park, drive, walk, consume, work. With apologies to Lou Kahn and Luis Barragan, I was standing on a "façade to the sky."


Why did the experience feel so strange? Because, I believe, I was standing atop a utilitarian structure, a mere brown, concrete, rather ugly parking garage. Yet it was informing me of so many conditions of urbanity that cannot be perceived from an aerial photograph, city plan, or even from street level. From this level, a parking lot several stories in the air, an elevated serpentine continuation of the street, a revenue-producing 60-foot wide ramp, I was re-enlightened not only of the patterns and use of city streets, sidewalks, and empty lots, but also to an under-utilized, under-examined, and under-exploited building typology--the parking garage.


The parking garage maintains a ubiquitous presence in the American urban landscape, or any place where density and parking management are of intense concern, like universities. Garages, like the automobiles that reside on their ramps, continue to reproduce. Yet although new models of cars grace the roads every year, very rarely does the parking garage evolve. Parking structures are rarely used as vehicles for further investigations, even though the buildings are, in reality, a commonly utilized artifice, often serving as the entrance thresholds to so many urban and campus experiences.


That is not to say that some gifted architects have not tackled the building type. Some architects have utilized the parking garage to study other facets of architecture and urbanism. August Perret continued experiments in reinforced and sculpted concrete in his Garage der Rue Ponthieu (1905), borrowing the ecclesiastical rose window for his façade. Richard Neutra (1925) created entire fantastical cities, like his Rush City schemes, to house the car. Frank Lloyd Wright designed several stunning structures for the Point in Pittsburgh (1947), incorporating multiple programs into a megastructural complex, all bowing to the transformative agent, the car. Paul Rudolph continued his exploration of his brutalist lexicon with the design of the Temple Street garage in New Haven (1962).


Kahn, in the early 1950's, also recognized the car as the hegemonic machine that it would become, and consequently devised traffic flow patterns and strategies for Philadelphia. In his clairvoyant sketches, Kahn placed parking garages, or "harbors" as he described them in a Perspecta 3 essay, at strategic intersections of the Philadelphia grid. These massive structures, which evolved in many of Kahn's urban studies for the city, were partly inspired by the ring-walled city of Carcassonne. Kahn's buildings stood as sentinels and gateways to the city. These problems of infrastructural re-appropriation and sheltering later inspired other cities, like New Haven, to use parking garages as urban gateways.


More contemporary architects, like Machado + Silvetti of Boston, have used the parking garage to articulate the inherent beauty of common materials. At Princeton University, the architects meticulously detailed brick, copper, steel, bronze, and concrete, to in essence, to create an "invisible" parking garage on an Ivy League campus. By deploying contextual material palates and inviting ivy to grow in, on, and up the facades, the garage enhances the campus plan anatmospherere.


The emerging Dutch firm NL Architects has blurred the perceived conventions of parking structures to create rationally erratic buildings. Confined by the density of Dutch cities, NL has designed garages which try to produce as many linear meters of parking space by folding, an unfolding, and refolding, street-like parking decks.


But why are parking garages not utilized and studied more? Admittedly, the parking structure is not the sexiest building type to study. But, the car and its associated infrastructures are the catalysts and obstacles of contemporary and future urban design, suburban design, and ex-urban design. The parking garage is the forgotten navel of urbanity which should be considered more thoroughly than normative program, like the spectacle museum or density-busting residential blocks.


So I call on all those professors of architecture and urbadesign, myself included, to throw away those studio briefs that demand that students design the spectacular aquarium or the typical commercial, residential, and retail urban blocks. Research the parking garage, learn form the parking garage, and re-conceive the potential of the structure, and therefore positively alter our Americancn urban environments.

Kunstler takes on Rem . . .

James Kunstler, ferocious critic of anything not charming and quaint, goes after Koolhaas's new Louisville, Kentucy project.

Here is a Lousiville Courier-Journal article on the building.

Megastuctures are en vogue once again. Reyner Banham would be intrigued.

Running for the borders . . . of Cuyahoga County

The population of Cuyahoga County is diminishing, while the surrounding counites, like Geauga, Medina, and Lorain, are growing. The exodus continues beyond the suburbs to the exurbs, like Avon Lake, Medina, and Chesterland. See the Cleveland Plain Dealer article here.

Everyone should read David Brooks' book "On Paradise Drive," which talks about the growth of the exurbs. The book is a foil (although not as well-researched and academic) to the recent critical work of Dolores Hayden of Yale.

Although many architects, planners, and committees, talk of density, programmatic and cultural diversity, less square footage, and public transportation, many Americans do not. See this article, again in today's Plain Dealer, talking about the rejection of a Hope VI housing plan for poorer, but resurgent areas of Cleveland, Tremont and Ohio City.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Another Washington monument . . . or not?

Anthony Williams, Mayor of Washington, D.C. has unveiled the stadium design for the Washington Nationals. I guess the days of HOK's paradigm-changing baseball stadiums (Camben Yards in Baltimore + Jacobs Field in Cleveland) are over. Read the Washington Post's critique.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Is Architecture Flat?

Last night I finished reading Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat."

Naturally, I began to situate the arguments of the books in the context of the practice of architecture and urban design. I need to think and research some more since so many facets of the profession and academy will be shaped by the forces, stategies, and flows of captial, information, labor, and education desribed in the book.

I should have read a little more carefully and listened intently to lectures in Advanced Contemporary Theory. Benjamin, Jameson, and others would be of help right now. Maybe Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History and the Last Man," another book I have started, will shed some more light on the economic and cultural determinism that advanced technologies will facilitate.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Cleveland's Lakefront . . .

Maybe some lakefront activist Clevelanders should go to the Yale School of Architecture in a few weeks for the Waterfront Symposium.

Cleveland has been formulating a new plan for the under-used coast line of Lake Erie. Although many nativists here agree that we should not mimic Chicago, Toronto or Amsterdam, it would not hurt to hear about the tactics and strategies being enacted by waterfront planners around the world.
Maybe I will have to head back to New Haven.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Libeskind . . . taking shots

Over the past few months I kept coming across Libeskind's "Breaking Ground," his autobiography/personal story about the WTC Master Planning, at my local bookstore.

I never bought it, figuring it most likely would be a saccharine-lite book, written mainly for the non-architects and also for PR purposes.

Well, I bought it at a used book store over the weekend for a few bucks. So I started reading.

And, as I have delved into the book, I have found my pre-conceived notions correct . . . .but I did not think that Libeskind would dump on so many architects.

So far (I am only 1/4 of the way through the book), he has taken shots at Eisenman, Meier, Roger Duffy, David Childs, SOM, Fred Schwartz, Herbert Muschamp, among others.

Believe it or not, I can't wait to continue reading tonight . . .

A village voice essay:,essay,57712,1.html

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Some more websites . . .

Two more websites that I have come across today: (Ricahrd Florida's website)

Catholic Enclave in Florida

Is this the Catholic Celebration?

I have no real problem with this, but further inquiry is required.

I would suggest a redesign of the catherdral, however.


Links about why the church looks as bad as it does . . . .

Ed Glaeser: Urban Economist

An article a colleague in the office forwarded to me . . . .

I have no comment since I have not read it yet . . .


It is always interesting to read about another profession's perspective on issues of urbanism.

Many architects and nostolgic-types may gag on his assertions, but they are nonetheless relevant, epecially in the re-building of New Orleans. Re-thinking zoning laws, the durability of housing, and the necessity of an educated population are all necessary to save some cities, again, like Cleveland.

Here are some of Glaeser's articles:


The rebuilding of New Orleans will be a touchstone for much discussion and critique concerning the constitution of the American city. Over the next few years, competitions, protests, editorials, and design studios will situate themselves in the cauldron of post-Katrina New Orleans.

How will the re-building process turn-out? Will the re-building result in the creation of a stronger, more confident city, like post-fire Chicago, or something less? Only time will tell.

Here is one place where the discussion will continue:

Monday, March 06, 2006

Architecture must burn . . . maybe

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Aaron Betsky's 2000 manifesto "Architecture Must Burn" at a used bookstore in suburban Cleveland. I was neither moved nor repulsed by the text put forth by the globtrotting theorist, but I did find the graphic design rather annoying.

There were two things that I found interesting after reading and reflecting upon the brief screed:

1. Current Manifestos, like current technologies, have ever-diminishing half-lives. The ideas published just over five years ago are somewhat stale and out of architectural fashion already.

2. The tone of the text seemed to also contradict some of the notions put forth by Mr. Betsky at a recent symposium this past fall at Cleveland State University. The "go-with-the-sprawl" thesis present in the manifesto disappeared from his critique of American sprawl offered in September.

Don't get me wrong--theorists are allowed to alter their tunes. But the above observations demonstrate the thin-ness or ephemerality of the foundations upon which these intellectual provocations rest.

A competition worth perusing . . .

I would encourage everyone to take a look at the entries for the Urban Voids competition.

3/4 of the "Blog on the City" proprietors submitted proposals--see Loop/8 in the Honorable Mention section and Circum-Square in Gallery 2.

As our urban cores deteriorate, especially in Cleveland, we will need strategies and tactics to transition these once active industrial/commercial/residential zones into new zones of program, dormancy, land banking, etc.

Kent State's CUDC has conducted charettes in Youngstown dealing with the shrinking city problem.


Welcome to "Blog on the City."

This space will serve as a forum for issues concerning architecture, urbanism, landscape and their interconnected and adjancent theories, conceits, critiques, and speculations---as specified by a group of architects practicing and teaching in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Cleveland.

Thanks for reading.