Sunday, April 30, 2006

Pet Peeves . . .

1. Using the word "architect" incorrectly. I am watching the Cavs-Wizards, Game 4. Michael Reghi, the play-by-play local television guy, just said this: "You gotta love the way Danny Ferry (Cavs GM) has been architecting this team." I did not realize that "architect" is a verb.

2. One-paper town architectural crticism. Here in town, we have only one paper, The Plain Dealer, and consequently, there is only one architecture/design/art critic. Steven Litt does an acceptable job covering all things architectural in town, but the crticism and analysis can be wishy-washy, since there exists no intellectual sparring partner at a competing newspaper.

Litt can write aggravatingly down the middle of the street, offering some praise, some criticism, and not really take a strong, reasoned postition. If you are a critic and love New Urbanism, back that position. If you think that the Dutch are the saviors of American urban design (they are not, by the way), make a case and stand for it. If you think that Bob Venturi and Charles Moore have been treated inhumanely, like post-modern road-kill, write extensively about 1970's mannerism and defend the ideas and how they inform local architectural design.

Taking a position and sparking a passionate and informed dialogue should be the role of the critic, not that of a tastemaker or fashion stylist. Futhering a position that is not necessarily popular is not a bad thing--it could rattle the dusty cages of tired thinking that plague this city.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More on Jane Jacobs . . . .

As I sift throuth the various obituaries and tributes to Jane Jacobs, I notice that partisans from all parts of the political spectrum embraced many of her views on "the city."

For example, William F. Buckley included a chapter of The Death and Life of Great American Cities in his anthology of American Conservative Thought, although Jacobs was not even remotely conservative. Rod Dreher, in his book Crunchy Cons, writes about the fusion of conservative values and Jacobs-inspired high and mixed-density neighborhoods and lifestyles.

See the following articles here and here at National Review Online, a conservative opinion site.

Obituary at Slate. Still browsing for some illuminating liberal commentary.

UPDATE: Steve Litt on Jacobs.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Coop Himmelblau in Akron

Ohio is becoming a bastion of contemporary architecture.

See these construction photos of Coop's Akron Art Museum.

Jane Jacobs, RIP

Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, has died at the age of 89.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Flight 93 Memorial snag?

Rep. Charles Taylor has chosen the wrong arena to make a political stand.

We can quabble about the design of the Flight 93 memorial--but blocking the appropriations to complete the buying and consolidation of parcels for the site is wrong. Mr. Taylor must have one hell of a political tin ear.

Excuses and Ranting . . .

The Doctor has been away the past few days dealing with personal engagements and architectural design reviews at dear Old State . . . . or Penn State for you non-Nittany Lions.

And it pains me to say that I am somewhat disturbed at the quality of work being pursued at the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. I don't know why the quality of work is changing, whether the reason is related to a generational attitude, internal academic politics, the new building, or just a general lack of passion for architecture.

Historically the Third Year studio sequence is a rigorous, inspirational, frustrating, yet academic life-altering two-semester slog. You pushed to execute better work. You drew better. You built models--a lot of models. You worked, scrutinized, and criticized. You began to understand Kahn, Mies, and Corb. You knew architecture and architects--and they served as your precedents for personal design growth. You tried to arrive at the perfect parti and extrapolated from that departure point. You began to generate opinions about the garishness of Michael Graves or the reveal secret admirations for Venturi. You cared about architecture.

I failed to see that same passion in a lot of the work presented the other day. I hope I am wrong and am merely looking back through a lens that distorts my own academic past.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Peter Parker . . . Call your office

Well, Spiderman 3 is being filmed 20 stories below me on Euclid Avenue, or is that SoHo?

For the past few days Euclid Avenue has been stripped of its Cleveland-ness--street signs and RTA signs have been dismantled. New York City yellow cabs are now being positioned and driven down city streets and New York style propaganda is filling the vacant storefronts.

If the city goes through all this trouble to make Cleveland look like New York, I assume they could spend the same amount of energy sprucing up the place when the film crews leave our fair city.

But I doubt it.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

While you were sleeping . . .

. . . .people keep moving out of urban areas, much to the chagrin of city-slickers.

Traditional urbanists guilt civic leaders and politicians into spending millions of tax-payer dollars on deteriorating downtown cores. As we spend more and more money on designing and building places and infrastructures that are, sad to say, beyond hope, we spend less time, money, and attention to the places that are actually growing, like the sprawling exurbs.

Is is better to try to resuscitate a corpse, like the Euclid Corridor project in Cleveland, or invest in smart planning, design, and space allocations to create more livable communities out in Lorain, Medina, and Geauga Counties?

As Joel Garreau discusses in Edge Cities and David Brooks posits in On Paradise Drive, the enterprise of American commercial, educational, and soon cultural, dynamism is occurring on the peripheries of our metropolitan areas. Maybe that is where architects and urban designers should be spending their intellectual time and energy.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Places of non-spectacular interest . . .Parma

We have all made pilgrimages to shrines of architecture, visiting Corbu, Jefferson, Mies, or Gehry and their buildings. We pull out sketch books and digital cameras, feeling obligated to document our visit to the masters.

But as many architects and writers have explained, there is much more to learn from the seemingly ordinary and everyday architectures and places where we reside daily. John Stilgoe writes about these everyday places in Outside Lies Magic. Reyner Banham wrote lovingly of the kitsch that constituted much of ordinary American life. Kevin O'Keefe has just published his book called The Average American, which documents his quest to find the most statistical average American.

My recent awakening to the richness of the everyday comes as I move to another suburb in Cleveland, the suburb of all suburbs--Parma. Parma is the butt of many Cleveland jokes, usually involving the terms "the full-Cleveland", "pink flamingo", "white socks + bowling shoes," and "waterbed emporiums." Even Drew Carey, who grew up in the city of Cleveland proper, included Parma jokes in his stand-up acts and sit-com.

However, Parma is a pretty interesting place. It is the seventh-largest city in Ohio. Parma is the hottest housing market in Northeast Ohio. The city hosts a copious cross-section of cultures and religions. Many immigrants and young professionals are flocking to this inner-ring suburb. And the city, which was a post-war boom town, possesses fantastic anomalies of suburban development, interesting and varied housing stocks, odd, monumental traditionally inspired modern Catholic churches, and spectacularly garish 1960's banks and office buildings.

Each one of us knows of places like Parma, whether in Chicago, New Jersey, or Los Angeles. I look foreword to sharing these examples of modern suburban architectural idealism.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Pritzker goes to a Brazilian

chitPaulo Mendes da Rocha has won the Pritzker Prize for 2006.

I don't know . . . . I am kind of underwhelmed by the presented portfolio.

Maybe it is my recent leanings away from Corbusian inspired architecture, or the really bad Pritzker website.

This almost feels like the Pritzker Jury felt the need to present the award to someone from South America this year, or at least from the "margins" of architectural practice.

I can be convinced otherwise--- this is just my first gut reaction.

UPDATE: to the anonymous commenter who ask why a Cleveland architect did not get the Pritzker . . . touche! Nice touch of wit and cutting sarcasm.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Architecture at the Margins

The more I think about the discourse-less architecture scene in Cleveland, the more I am impressed by architects working at the "margins." You can define the "margins" in any number of ways, inlcuding the cultural margins, architectural margins, economic margins, ethnic margins, etc.

There are plently of examples of architects working in far more "remote" locales than us in Northeastern Ohio. I am regularly inspired by the work of Malcolm Blackwell in Arkansas, David Salmela in Duluth, Brain MacKay-Lyons in Nova Scotia, Turner Brooks up in the woods of Vermont, James Sterling in Maine, Teddy Cruz at the US-Mexico border and the work of Rural Studio in the Black Belt of Alabama.

Since I see many recent readers blog from some out-of-the-way places, I would be interested in their thoughts on creating credible architectural discourses away from the power centers of New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.

Past BOTC posts . . .

For new readers, here are some non-Cleveland topics from last month that harnessed attention . . .

on parking garages . . .

on NASCAR urbanism . . . .

on the definition of urbanism . . . . .

Welcome to New Readers . . . .

I see that "Blog on the City" has been link-listed at "Daily Dose of Architecture," and because of that, we have more traffic and new readers today.

We apologize for the Cleveland-centric discusison on the blog currently--the Cleveland architectural community is experiencing an intellectual crisis. Some high-profile commsisions and shortlists are being assigned to firms like Office dA, FOA, Michael Maltzan, etc., and local architects are asking "why?"

Well, the answer resides in the fact that there is no real "critical" discourse in the region, due to many of factors. The high profile project clients were looking for cutting edge design and young emergent practices. While the city hosts very competent and professional firms, Cleveland does not host the kind of practices that engender new paradigms of design. So you will see below "Calls for Discourse" and the dicussion of the development of "Schools" of architectural thought.

Hopefully in the future you will see more broad essays and speculations about various facets of architecture and urbanism. My partners need to cough up some interesting stuff that I know they possess.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Impediments around University Circle?

There are worries that the poorer areas around Case Western Reserve University may evolve into . . . . . . .gasp! . . . .a Georgetown-like community that will shake up the neighborhoods, forcing demographic turnover and wealth development.

See Steven Litt's Sunday PD article here.

I believe that this type of conversion is what this region and city has been wishing would occur around such areas as University Circle. Gentrificaiton is part of the life and death of urban neighborhoods, especially in an American context. If you want creative-class types with taxable incomes and disposable cash, these kinds of neighborhoods need to exist adjacent to University Circle.

Although many of the political-types and civic leaders avoid saying this directly, they all would rather have Georgetown-like or Cambridge-like neighborhoods around University Circle. I don't see any of them aspiring to replicate the town-gown situations that exist with Yale + New Haven or the University of Pennsylvania + West Philadelphia.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Why a "Cleveland School" could arise . . .

As the forthcoming issue of Perspecta, the Yale Architectural Journal, suggests, no dominant architectural ideology exists. There are cacophonies of voices yet no direction. Pluralism reigns.
This is the opportunity for a critical "regional" discourse to be heard and used to inform an architecture. See the synopsis of Perspecta 38 below.

Perspecta 38: Architecture After All

The profession of architecture is increasingly characterized by divergent architectural ideas and divergent political, social, technological, and economic agendas. Much of current practice focuses on the process of architecture (its how) rather than its meaning, effect, or reason for being (its why). This issue of Perspecta--the oldest and most distinguished student-edited architectural journal--explores the practice of architecture after the breakdown of consensus. Designers, theoreticians, and scholars investigate an architectural landscape devoid of a dominant ideology or ethos. Their essays take specific points of departure--globalization, urbanism, pedagogy, irony, as well as form, theory, and ideology--to address broader questions about the social, economic, and political fallout from these modes of practice, considering whether the lack of an overriding ethos in architecture is liberating or limiting for the profession. And, after all, is it conceivable, or desirable, to return to an architecture derived from a single, dominant mode of operation?

What do we have to offer?

The natives are getting restless . . . .

Check out the "Letters to the Editor" today in the Plain Dealer.

One Rick Hawksley of Kent responds to Steve Litt's article on the MOCA shortlist earlier in the week.

Sorry I do not have a link. You will have to pull out the PD from the trash somewhere.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Call for discourse . . .

I am happy that our "Call for Discourse" has garnered some attention in the Cleveland blogosphere.

I envisioned a three-railed plan in a previous post and am still ruminating about the structural outline. But from where, what, and whom would a critical dialogue emerge? What would constitute a "Cleveland School" of architecture?

There is no iconic figure, like Kahn or Gehry, or regional predilection that gives rise to someone like Will Bruder, who himself was strongly influence by the Arizona work of Wright and Paul Schweiker. There is no intellectual constellation, like the "Philadelphia-Yale Axis" which helped begin the American post-modern movement.

Only one school exists within Cleveland's orbit, Kent State, which is known more for creating sound and professional undergraduates rather than design research and speculation. The city's architectural community seems to have only a tenuous connection to the intellectual behemoths at Ohio State, such as Jeff Kipnis, Bob Somol, and others.

I am not looking to specify a character of a movement. That would be the wrong way to spark "discourse". The "schools" usually evolve from the extenuating circumstances of a time and place. What are our extenuating circumstances? What is of our time and and place? What local idiosyncrasies could inform an intelligent discourse that Cleveland architects could share with the greater realm of Architecture?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Why Architecture is hard to do . . .

An example of the meddling of outside forces which makes Architecture a pain some times.

The uber-dean I am sure is not happy.

Calls for intellectual discourse . . .

As the past few weeks have shown, Cleveland institutions are running out of town to find architects for their "iconic' projects (see MOCA, Cleveland Institute of Art, and Cleveland State).

We can wallow in our typical Cleveland despair, looking up from the turf when the proverbial Steeler linebacker spits in our face. Or we can use these slights by our elites as critical moments of professional introspection.

We must face the fact that Cleveland architecture does not possess a substantial intellectual discourse. There is no sense of a city "school", like the Philadelphia School that arose around Lou Kahn and Robert Venturi or a Phoenix School that grew around the passionate architectural pursuits of Will Bruder or a LA School that emerged with Frank Gehry. There is no leading intellectual purveyor of a singular idea or set of ideas, based either in an academic rigor or rooted in a regional vernacular. A serious philosophical vacuum exists that is filled by empty formalism and contextual echoes.

Here is my call to action. In order to establish a critical mass of architectural thought, a sturdy infrastructure of academic presence, patronage, and media coverage must be established within Cleveland. Kent State, by moving all of its Master of Architecture programs downtown offers one rail of infrastructure. Cleveland "leaders" must also be open to provide opportunities for younger architects to explore via competitions and smaller commissions. And lastly the arts community, the Cleveland AIA, and various critics, including Steve Litt and the Plain Dealer, must push for innovative architectural and urban design approaches and research.

If these rails are established, maybe a vigorous and engaged architectural community will emerge, allowing Cleveland architects to enter a serious discourse and therefore enter the consciousness of our leading institutions.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

My absence . . .

I know I do not have a large audience, but I wanted to let you know my recent four-day absence was due to a "stupid person-meets-technology" moment.

Around mid-night Sunday morning, my neighbors above me decided to hang clothes from their sprinkler heads. Oops. Yep, they broke one and sent water everywhere, including my ceiling, walls, floors, etc.

So I was frantically moving my expansive library, furniture, clothes, as well as my drawings, out of my apartment into the cool early-spring morning. So I am quite angry, tired, and relatively homeless.

As a public service announcement, please do not mess with these things.

MOCA . . . schmoca

Steve Litt has an article about the short-listed architects for the MOCA project here.

Improvised Schema has a first hand report about the exhibition opening here.

Let me quote from the Litt article:

MOCA director Jill Snyder says the museum wants "to produce an iconic building that is a significant architectural landmark for Cleveland internationally."

Just as important, she says, "is the recognition that this commission could be a breakthrough project for any one of the firms we are considering. We really embrace that and think it's sp consistent with our mission of supporting and commissioning new creative work."

So again, while the "leaders" tell us to Believe in Cleveland, a Cleveland institution is handing out commissions to "up and coming" firms with, in come cases, with little, if any, built work, hoping they will break-out. Why don't these people realize that you could bolster the architectural culture here and offer a "break-out" chance for a local architect.

The powers that be are still stuck in the "master architect" paradigm, believing that only a few chosen architects have the creativity to unleash architectural nirvana upon the masses. With the advancements in design technologies and the necessary collaborative relationships needed to construct buildings, the "master architect" is dead. Design is being democratized and the playing field, as Tom Friedman would say, is being flattened. Cleveland-based architects can compete with their dapper coastal brethren.

This project should have included a solicitation of design ideas through a design competition. That way local firms, and the young architectural talent locally, could have at least had a fair shot of informing the design.

This is not a rant rooted in Cleveland nativism or provincialism, but the blatant hypocrisy of our so-called leading elites.