November 25, 2008

an atlas of my childhood, limited to south carolina

825 lakeside circle
atlas_1.jpg

Please note abandoned playground located in woods across from house.

wal-mart
atlas_2.pg

Where the people went on saturday night. When the wal-mart came, it put the Roses out of business. When I was in Delaware a few months ago, I drove past a strip of stripmalls that more or less duplicated the pre-wal-mart retail ecology[1] of lancaster, right down to a still-open Roses'. The emptiness of the parking lot in the satellite photo suggests to me that the old wal-mart building was abandoned when the super wal-mart opened (on the other side of Bypass 9) and has yet to find a tenant.

church
atlas_3.jpg

Note gas station at corner, which I imagined to be a den of iniquity because Justin Lutz's father owned it and he made his money by placing video poker machines in his gas stations. The trailers are gone from the church; I am not sure what this means.

the race track, which was next to the county dump.
atlas_4.jpg

You could hear this at night in the summer while lying in bed. The sounds, smells, and light textures (not images, but conditions of light) -- the cacophany of cicadas on a hot summer night, the smell of cut grass (I was well-acquainted with our lawnmower and, like most people in Lancaster, we had a sizeable lawn), the whoosh of an attic fan and a certain temperature of air being pulled through the house -- are at least as vital to 'childhood' as particular places or events. Any of these (and a number of other sensations) can easily trigger a nostalgia for a place that I have only returned to once and may never return to again.

bowater, the paper plant
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Smelled (and presumably still smells) awful.

andrew jackson state park
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I have been informed that I may have knocked a few other, smaller kids over and/or pushed them out of the way in the hunt for easter eggs. I do not remember this.

jaars
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This is where I rode in a plane for the first time. It is also where my friend Mark (who is still a treasured friend, even if we do not see each other nearly so often anymore) lived. jaars stands for "jungle aviation and radio service".

lancaster high school
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We left Lancaster in my sophmore year of high school, but not before I had the opportunity to learn what sort of educational opportunities a state whose public educational system is perenially ranked in the bottom five in the nation offered.

lancaster county library
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The checkout limit is ten items per person. I remember this number because I strained against this artificial limit for many years; if I read all ten books before our next weekly trip, I was in a very unfortunate situation.

the farmer's market
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One of the advantages of a small town is a good farmer's market, because the farms are close.

landsford canal state park
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This image makes the Catawba seem much more attractive than it actually is.

grace finishing plant
atlas_12.jpg

One of the Springs (a textile manufacturer) plants. It seems that all of them (in Lancaster) have closed now, with the Grace Finishing Plant being the last to go. Pretty much everyone's diddy worked for Springs, Duracell, or Bowater. Maybe not so much now.

[1] While on one of our field trips for Field Ecology, a friend and I realized that strip malls might be described in a manner similar to plant communities: that is, there are various sets of stores that typically occur in combination with one another (in ecology, these sets are referred to as 'associations'), and they are replaced by other stores in a manner similar to ecological succession. So a Wal-Mart association might be succeeded by a Best Buy-Barnes and Noble association if the surrounding area's income level rises, or perhaps a Family Dollar-Food Lion association if the area stagnates.

November 21, 2008

slavoj zizek welcomes you to the gym

I have mentioned before that I believe we would all be fitter happier more productive if we dedicated a slice of each week to spending time with McSweeney's. Today I suggest reading "NOTED POST-MARXIST SOCIOLOGIST, PHILOSOPHER, AND CULTURAL CRITIC SLAVOJ ZIZEK WELCOMES YOU TO THE GYM":

In 1981, singer, actress Olivia Newton-John is performing in a musical video for her song "Physical." Olivia Newton-John is in the gym, not sweating, wearing headband and leotard, doing aerobics. Why is she not sweating? To answer this question, we need to reverse it and ask: Why are we not wearing a headband and leotard? And why are we sweating?

Then, I think, the meaning is clear. We are sitting in front of the TV, being couch potato, watching the illusion of nudity--which is the leotard--and the symbolism of discipline: the headband. She is doing all the work for us. She is getting physical.

With that in our minds, today we are going to do an upper-body workout with weights and the machines. OK!

First up is "bench press." This is for the pectoral muscles, the biceps, and whatever. You, the workout person, lie on the bench, and you raise your arms upward, raising a heavy bar to an unseen god, dictator, or whatever. It is like you are offering something to someone above you.

However, it would be a mistake to see it only this way, I think...

Finish it.

November 20, 2008

field operations::fresh kills

freshkills_1.jpg

freshkills_2.jpg
images via metropolis and field operations

A witty repurposing: trash diggers as billboards.

From a recent Metropolis article on James Corner and Field Operations:

"On a blustery Friday afternoon, Corner drives out to Staten Island. In the parking lot of a nearby mall, we meet up with Ellen Neises, associate principal at Field Operations, who leads the project, and then follow a garbage truck through the Fresh Kills gates. (The Department of Sanitation still has a garage there.) Inside are hissing gasworks and giant cranes, busy loading fresh soil from barges into dump trucks. The garbage mounds themselves, as tall as 150 feet, rise steeply from the tidal creeks to flat-top hills, pocked by pipes connected to the system that collects the gas produced during decomposition. Fresh Kills is not a landscape that conforms to any conventional understanding--and Corner's scheme does not strain to normalize it. The master plan imagines mountain-biking courses and picnicking fields on the remediated trash mounds. But it also suggests turning garbage barges into floating gardens and a storm-water-retention basin into a "sunken forest," a swampy grove set within concrete retaining walls. "We think these kinds of things are very beautiful and extraordinary," Corner says as we pass the spot. One of Field Operations' first projects for Fresh Kills is to repurpose the retired trash diggers--giant, dinosaurlike cranes--to hold signs, announcing the site's future as a park. "This tension between the engineered landscape and the naturalized landscape, and what people's expectations are of beauty, is part of the ongoing discussion here," he says."

The article won't shock anyone who follows the landscape/architecture discourse, but it does provide an excellent distillation of the potential of landscape architecture and, in a couple engaging paragraphs, explains how we went from shrubbing up buildings to rebuilding the High Line. Especially recommend for those who are curious what, exactly, landscape architects have to offer to cities.

November 19, 2008

November 18, 2008

the hagiography of the affluencer

I almost said something when I read this article "The Affluencer" in the Times Magazine last week, but thought better of it, as it seems sisyphean to go around complaining every time you find something vapid on the internet. But a couple of letter writers seemed to have similar complaints, so I will indulge myself and quote their letters:

I never fully understood the "putting lipstick on a pig" phrase before reading Lauren Zalaznick's attempt to place reality television tripe like "Real Housewives" on the same artistic plane as the incredible work done at Killer Films (Susan Dominus, Nov. 2). I'm not judging Zalaznick for selling out, but don't deny the choices you make. It's still a sale if your artistic merit is bought and paid for by a desirable demographic.

SAM HUTCHINS
New York

"The Affluencer" was gutsy and made me squirm. I especially liked the quote from Zalaznick about the chef contestant with seafood allergies. She thought it would be "funny" to make him cook with shellfish. That summed up her values in one line -- anything for entertainment! Maybe she was hoping the chef would have an anaphylactic reaction on film and die right there! That would boost ratings. Amazing woman.

NISA LEVY
Denver

More:
::Previously noteworthy letters to the editor here (that one is really quite humorous) and here.

November 17, 2008

matt shlian::12 morning glory lane

Seen on _urb_:

shlian.jpg
matt shlian::12 morning glory lane [link]

More drawings and paper engineering can be seen and/or purchased at Matt Shlian's website; while its more or less all quality work, the drawings like 12 morning glory lane, which filter clean lines through computer and pen plotter to achieve distortions that resemble perfected topographies, are particularly evocative, suggesting a midpoint between Maya Lin and Tron (bonus: Tron Sweded).

November 14, 2008

ordos

ordos.jpg
ordos desert, near site of the ordos 100

While I have a great deal of respect for at least some of the architects (LTL, for instance) involved in the Ordos project (and perhaps they will make something more of it than is apparent on the surface; that, after all, is what good architects should be able to do), today's Archidose image does little to allay the concerns raised in May by Lebbeus Woods:

A hint of trouble appears when we notice that Ai Weiwei's design company is called Fake Design. Sure enough, when we look at his overall plan for the development, we find that it copies American suburban tract developments from the 50s, say, in California's San Fernando valley. Cf. the movie, "The Two Jakes." Sand-blown, treeless, lifeless for all human purposes, but soon to contain "your Dream House"-- just sign here! The picture published in the New York Times of the invited architects surveying their desolate sites is absurdly comic and at the same time sad. What must be going through their minds? Is this the Weissenhof Siedlung for the new age? Can I make great architecture here? Will I be mentioned in next Times article? Or, did I come halfway around the world for this? Am I here as an architect, or as a pawn in Ai's latest art game?

The idea of building large private houses on three-quarter acre plots jammed together without regard for the spaces between or the relationship of one house to the next must be unsettling to many of the invitees, especially considering the history of American suburbs. Some have questioned the lack of even basic design or ecological guidelines in the planning, and may be wondering, too, if Ordos, of all the rapidly developing places on the planet, really needs a retro typology--however updated and upgraded--as the most visible symbol of its future. It would be a more hopeful harbinger of the future not only for this city, but the field of architecture in general, if a number of the Ordos 100 architects banded together and came up with a coordinated overall plan and insisted that it be adopted. And, if it were not, they would simply decline the opportunity.

Viewing the settlement as a whole as in the model, the houses seem not significant (as one might hope a collection of architects such as this could provide), but baubles scattered on the surface of the planning equivalent of a dead carcass; as Diego Penalver put it in the comments on Lebbeus's post: "this project seems like an architectural collection of a sort, where all architects have been called to solve nothing, or a very conventional program at best, an architectural figure show". While the search for beautiful forms is by no means a bad thing (in and of itself and considered out of context, I would argue that it is in fact one of the grandest things humans can do), it is hard not to find, in the concentration of the energies of so many talented architects on a project that does nothing to confront the enormous challenges facing China[1], a confirmation of the charge that architecture is an inessential discipline, of use only to those with the wealth or power to buy its decorative services. (And it is because I think that charge should and could be inaccurate that I find Ordos somewhat distressing).

[1] see NYTimes: "A noxious cocktail of soot, smog and toxic chemicals is blotting out the sun, fouling the lungs of millions of people and altering weather patterns in large parts of Asia..."; the spatial organization of Ordos implicitly endorses the continuance of the sort of urban pattern and living arrangements that is responsible for this 'noxious cocktail'.

[welcome things magazine readers]

A few recent things that may be of interest if you were reading things:

a. the erie canal as a superhighway [an underdeveloped post on the comparative impact of canals and freeways]
b. a series of thoughts on big boxes: big box flip-a-strip and darwinian retail, big box urbanism [a guest post by stephen becker], and big box coda
c. just like honey [two approaches to compressed space in contemporary tokyo]
d. one grows rich in a year but dies in six months [on alan berger, the pontine marshes, and remediation]
e. billboards vs. trees
f. the minor landscape of glouster, ohio [on political geographies]
g. corridors of the unbuilt imagination [on drawing, representation, and landscape architecture sparked by a post by lebbeus woods; also contains incomplete thoughts]

I apologize for the brokenness (i.e. ugly formatting) of the archive pages; haven't had a chance (ok, the desire) to fix them since I restructured the blog a couple months ago. This also means that the older archives have a tendency to do shady things (like not give you a link to get back to the home page).

I might also suggest my rss feed, in xml or rdf.

November 13, 2008

election shock: rhetoric and action [potentially] not identical [if rumors are correct and entrails read properly]

Some of us in the anti-corn-subsidy-voting-bloc (yeah, we're a small constituency) have hoped that Obama's references to having read and assimilated some of Michael Pollan's writing on food would lead to a shift in the department of agriculture from prioritizing the needs of (very large corporate) producers of food to prioritizing the needs of eaters of food (that would be "everyone not employed by Con Agra et al").

Obviously, we do not know what policies the Obama administration will actually implement (because, at this moment, there is no Obama administration), but the initial signs, as Ezra Klein explains, are not exactly promising:

Yesterday, I wrote about the troubling possibility that Tom Vilsack could be appointed Secretary of Agriculture. Vilsack, of course, is the former governor of Iowa, which means the sum total of his agricultural experience has been building loving relationships with large corn producers in a state where they have a hammerlock on the political structure. And building those relationships has meant being a ceaseless and effective advocate for corn subsidies...

...At the end of the day, Secretary Vilsack will implement President Obama's agenda, whatever that might be. Which is why I see commentary on the Vilsack pick as commentary about Obama's priorities, not Vilsack's skills. And there's only one real signal from this sort of a pick: Your subsidies are safe.

If the Vilsack pick is actually the pick (as far as I know, it is actually a rumor of a pick) and it means what it seems to mean, then that is a real disappointment. Because I was looking forward to a president who would say things like this:

I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollan about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That's just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board.

And then do something about it. [1] Regardless of the accuracy of this rumor and one's interpretation of its significance, this provides an excellent place to point out that Pollan's recent Times Magazine article on food and the presidency is well worth reading, though it covers perhaps more ground than it could encompass completely coherently and is probably not Pollan's tightest piece of writing (but since Pollan is actually a really, really good writer, that means its just "above average" not "fantastic"):

Before setting out an agenda for reforming the food system, it's important to understand how that system came to be -- and also to appreciate what, for all its many problems, it has accomplished. What our food system does well is precisely what it was designed to do, which is to produce cheap calories in great abundance. It is no small thing for an American to be able to go into a fast-food restaurant and to buy a double cheeseburger, fries and a large Coke for a price equal to less than an hour of labor at the minimum wage -- indeed, in the long sweep of history, this represents a remarkable achievement.

It must be recognized that the current food system -- characterized by monocultures of corn and soy in the field and cheap calories of fat, sugar and feedlot meat on the table -- is not simply the product of the free market. Rather, it is the product of a specific set of government policies that sponsored a shift from solar (and human) energy on the farm to fossil-fuel energy.

...

Subsidized monocultures of grain also led directly to monocultures of animals: since factory farms could buy grain for less than it cost farmers to grow it, they could now fatten animals more cheaply than farmers could. So America's meat and dairy animals migrated from farm to feedlot, driving down the price of animal protein to the point where an American can enjoy eating, on average, 190 pounds of meat a year -- a half pound every day.

But if taking the animals off farms made a certain kind of economic sense, it made no ecological sense whatever: their waste, formerly regarded as a precious source of fertility on the farm, became a pollutant -- factory farms are now one of America's biggest sources of pollution. As Wendell Berry has tartly observed, to take animals off farms and put them on feedlots is to take an elegant solution -- animals replenishing the fertility that crops deplete -- and neatly divide it into two problems: a fertility problem on the farm and a pollution problem on the feedlot. The former problem is remedied with fossil-fuel fertilizer; the latter is remedied not at all.

[1] I added a bunch of qualifiers up in the previous paragraph because I think getting too upset over how we think policy might play out based on rumors about who might be appointed before the administration in question begins is rather silly.

More:
::Slightly older Ezra Klein on food policy, one of those random areas (like zoning policy) where left-leaning folk are more likely to hew to the naturally right-wing position (in this case, doing away with subsidies that distort the food market) than right-wingers are.
::Also it would be fantastic if Obama required his various Secretaries and Chiefs and advisors to come to all the White House meetings wearing animal costumes. Yes, that is an actual picture of Tom Vilsack.

silver jews::slow education


Silver Jews, Slow Education

there's a screen door, banging in the wind...

November 12, 2008

get your rulers out, kids, we're measuring meaning

I mentioned a couple posts ago a brief essay on happiness at Culture11 which I largely agreed with; now I will quote from one (in the same series on happiness, but this one is by Will Wilkinson) which I find self-evidentially absurd (and it saddens me to know that, clearly, not everyone agrees):

"More interesting, and much more compelling, were those who chose to admit the evidence, but argued that happiness isn't everything. Sure, family can be a pain, but it's meaningful. Indeed, the Newsweek article that imparted the unhappy news to a broad American audience noted that "parents still report feeling a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives than those who've never had kids." If meaning is an excellent reason to have children (and I'm not saying it isn't), perhaps it is also at least as good as happiness as an argument for generous child tax credits. And with meaning firmly in hand, perhaps happiness mavens disappointed by the numbers can jump from one paradox of prosperity to another.

Appeals to meaning are nice, but they just push the lump in the rug. What's so great about meaning, anyway? For that matter, what is it? How does one validate that x is in fact meaningful, or more meaningful than y? If meaning is going to carry a justificatory load in weighty personal and political deliberation, we can't just wave our hands about it. Intellectual virtue requires care. We need to get started on measuring meaning. There are many questions. How much is meaning worth to us in terms of happiness? How much is happiness worth in terms of meaning? There are no doubt many and varied sources of meaning. With science on our side, we are sure to discover that some of them are corrosive to other of our cherished values while some enhance them. Then we'll be well-situated to say goodbye to toxic meaningfulness. Goodbye national identity? Goodbye God? Who knows what we might find? Science is a source of excitement as well as wonder.

...

There is certainly more than one way of winning an argument, but there's just one way of knowing: the empirical way. If there's a way of knowing something about meaning -- including whether measuring meaning threatens meaning -- that's the way [emphasis mine]. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of happiness. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of meaning. But there is more than a little something wrong in blind pursuits when the means to enlightenment are at hand."

It must be very easy, being sure and right all the time (in particular, being sure and right that you have answered, definitively, the question "how do we know", a question to which a full third of the discipline of philosophy is devoted, is a neat trick). I suppose the reason I cannot be a libertarian of the Wilkinsonian variety is that I am neither sure nor right all the time.

More:
::I recommend to you this related post by Helen Rittenmeyer at Pomoco; your reading of it, however, will be incomplete unless you wade through the comments, particularly the exchange between Helen, Jonathan, and Ryan.

November 11, 2008

synecdoche new york

synecdoche-ny.jpg

Outlines the difficulty of the human condition well, though the film is much less convincing when it gives Cotard a day of respite; like a massive clocktower with invisible walls. Immersing yourself in Kaufmann's dream logic is bliss, but dream logic is, because even as we give ourselves to it we know it to be unreal, incapable of satisfactorily answering existential questions.

More:
::An obligatory link to life without buildings' interview with Charlie Kaufmann.
::Trailer.
::Previous short movie review, Southland Tales.

November 7, 2008

r&sie(n)::i'm lost in paris

Seen on core.form-ula:

hydro-ferns-1.jpg

hydro-ferns-2.jpg
images via new-territories.com

Project by R&Sie(n), twelve hundred hydroponic ferns and three hundred blown glass beakers add up to one unique wall.

November 6, 2008

the erie canal as a superhighway

The NY Times had an interesting article a couple days ago on the Erie Canal. Perhaps most intriguing was not the contents of the article, but the title of the article: "Hints of Comeback for Nation's First Superhighway" -- suggesting that canals and freeways belong to the same category of structure. And to some degree, of course they do -- both are infrastructures, both serve to transmit goods and people. But more importantly, yet perhaps less obviously, both have an effect on the territory in which they reside, influencing land values and potential building sites, determining what parcels are seen as viable for commerce and what parcels will be left to farmers and deer. So when you build a superhighway -- whether it is navigated by cars and trucks or barges and towboats -- you are also building a city.

But I'm getting ahead of myself; let's go back to the beginning of the story:

"Completed in 1825, rerouted in parts and rebuilt twice since then, the Erie Canal flows 338 miles across New York State, between Waterford in the east and Tonawanda in the west. It carved out a trail for immigrants who settled the Midwest, and it cemented the position of New York City, which connects with the canal via the Hudson River, as the nation's richest port. In 1855, at the canal's height as a thoroughfare for goods and people, 33,241 shipments passed through the lock at Frankfort, 54 miles east of Syracuse, according to Craig Williams, history curator at the New York State Museum in Albany.

Though diminished in the late 1800s by competition from railroads, commercial shipping along the canal grew until the early 1950s, when interstate highways and the new St. Lawrence Seaway lured away most of the cargo and relegated the canal to a scenic backwater piloted by pleasure boats."

erie-1.jpg
detail from 1853 map of the erie canal, showing canal profile

While the canal remains a rarely utilized means of transportation, usage is rising:

"The canal still remains the most fuel-efficient way to ship goods between the East Coast and the upper Midwest. One gallon of diesel pulls one ton of cargo 59 miles by truck, 202 miles by train and 514 miles by canal barge, Ms. Mantello said. A single barge can carry 3,000 tons, enough to replace 100 trucks.

As the price of diesel climbed over $4 a gallon this summer -- the national average is now about $3.31 a gallon -- more shippers rediscovered the Erie Canal. On one trip in mid-October, the Margot motored down the canal at about seven knots, pushing a barge loaded with a giant green crane. The machine was being transported from Huger, S.C., to the Pinney Dock, operated by the Kinder Morgan Company in Ashtabula, Ohio.

"It really just came down to economics," said Lee Demers, the dock's manager. The other option was to move the crane through the St. Lawrence Seaway, adding more than 1,000 miles and greater fuel costs to the trip."

erie-2.jpg
buffalo, ny along the erie canal, 1903 postcard

The return of the canal, as minimal as it may be (at least for now), suggests a comparison of the differing effects of these two categories of superhighway -- automotive and liquid -- might be in order. To some degree, time has dampened trace of the canal in the larger cities it passes through -- Rochester, Tonawanda, Schneteday. The warehouses and factories which once lined the canal (as seen above) may have disappeared. However, the urban pattern that they instigated remains:

erie-3.jpg
erie canal aqueduct, in rochester ny, late 1890s

erie-4.jpg
the same site, today with bridge built over aqueduct highlighted

I have heard it said that there are two kinds of markings on the land that never disappear: roads and property lines; I don't think it would be wrong to add 'canals' as a third kind of permanent marking (by this it is not meant that roads and property lines (and canals) never disappear, but rather that the trace of these things can always be discerned, if you know where and how to look).

Compare to the arrangement of commercial and industrial structures a few miles to the west, generated by freeways:

erie-5.jpg
via google maps

The canal and the freeway can also be compared in terms of their effect on rural territories; the effect the canal has had on urban patterns in more rural portions of New York is unmistakable (though, it should be noted, a railway parallels the canal, so this effect is also a result of the presence of the rail line):

erie-6.jpg
newark, ny, along the erie canal, via google maps; click to jump there

We can compare this to contemporary growth in a rural area, along a I-81, north of albany, new york:

erie-8.jpg

This is too brief a look at the effects of canals and freeways to really examine why they are associated with such disparate patterns of urbanism. But I think it does suggest that such study -- and the corresponding techniques of insertion that could develop from it -- is essential to the development of a post-Corbusian urbanism, an urbanism that sees cities not as collections of buildings but as a lace of processes, both natural and artificial, in tension and fluctuating.

November 5, 2008

ballots cast

chsr.jpg
[image via California High Speed Rail Authority]

Proposition 1a passes in California; great news for the future of transit in America. If we can't make high speed rail work between Los Angeles and San Francisco, I doubt we will make it work anywhere. There was a good bit of debate on the internets (and in print) leading up to the election; I guess we'll find out if Reason's case against rail was really as reasoned as they'd like you think. Personally, I doubt it was -- high speed rail is demonstratably viable in the other countries its been tried in -- Japan, China, France, Spain, etc. -- and I see little evidence that Americans are so exceptionally averse to rail travel that we can't make high speed rail work.

More:
::Enjoy the animations the state put together to sell the project; give it a starting point, a destination, and watch.

November 4, 2008

modernity, happiness, sedation, autonomy

Culture11 is running a series examining the notion of happiness; one of the pieces, by Peter Lawler, is more or less consonant with my suspicions. I'll let Ivan Kenneally (at Postmodern Conservative) summarize, since no one paragraph in Lawler's piece captures the entire thrust of the argument:

"...Peter Lawler insightfully examines the evidence that, despite breathless exertions in the service of creating a secular paradise, the modern attempt to "master and possess" nature has failed to make us fundamentally happier. The crux of the problem has to do with our interpretation of the individual as an agent of autonomous freedom untethered from any natural bounds--happiness is now to be sought against the obstacles of nature rather than consonant with the purposes and limitations it might illuminate. As a consequence, happiness is delinked from virtue, once understood to be its requisite condition, and the experience of happiness is severed from the edifying lessons of melancholy and misery. If we want to be truly happy we have to learn to be truly good, and goodness requires the fortifying experience of struggling with, rather than evading, the characteristic human encounter with alienation and loneliness."

If I were to highlight one point that I believe is particularly accurate, it is tying the flowering of a great deal of the problems of the modern [1] condition to the insistence on autonomy (the modern understanding of which is at once new and not new).

[1] I don't want to take the time or space to defend this, but I would generally argue that most people -- including traditional postmodernists such as Foucault and Rorty -- are (hyper)modern, not truly postmodern, in that traditional postmodernism is merely a working out of the consequences of being radically serious about the foundational assumptions of modernism (see Nietzsche, the only essential postmodernist), not a break with those assumptions)

November 3, 2008

big box coda

This is an old item, but its a timely old item, as it relates directly to the postings from last week on big boxes and urbanism (see big box flip-a-strip and darwinian retail and big box urbanism). From an interview on Archinect, images by Martha Schwartz's office, analyzing the landscape condition of big boxes:

schwartz-1.jpg
[image via Archinect]

Schwartz and the interviewer, Quilian Riano, discuss the possibility of working in the strip:

QR: What do you say that we switch gears now and talk a little about some of your work. I was particularly interested in the visual analysis you did of the big box landscape. Is your firm beginning to pursue work in the strip malls?

MS: I have to say that right now our firm is getting larger and more urban civic and commercial projects than those in strip malls. We are now getting the signature spaces within cities that afford a lot of flexibility. The problem getting the strip-mall like projects is that developers are not willing to pay for real landscapes and are content with the minimum token landscapes that codes require. In the case of highways and other civic projects in the suburban landscape, there is a lack of political understanding and will to spend the money to humanize those spaces. The main problem is that there is an abundance of design need in the bland landscape but the client just does not exist. So for now I feel all we can do is bring up the issues and maybe through academia begin to engage leaders in government and business to take the improvement of the landscape as a real challenge.

QR: Your other analysis of the lack of power that architecture has in the strip seems to me similar to what Venturi has been saying, but then he returns to the architectural object to address some of those problems. You are telling us that it is the landscape that will really make a difference in these areas.

MS: That is right, in the suburban landscape architects are stuck on the object, which, although nice, lacks real power. Architects seem to have retreated to signature buildings in the middle of cities that are irrelevant to the majority of people. It is the responsibility of architects and landscape architects to care about the spaces that people actually inhabit. Without our collective advocacy cities and developers will do nothing.

To illustrate the notion of the powerlessness of the object to overcome its context, Schwartz provides us with these telling photoshops:

schwartz-3.jpg

schwartz-4.jpg
[image via Archinect]

November 2, 2008

finding reasons to farm central london

Pruned has a series of posts running recently on a 07-08 studio at the AA in London, which was centered on the question "Can extremes of programmatic effectiveness blend with the fragility of human habitat?"

aainter3-1.jpg
Farmacy::Samantha Lee

aainter3-2.jpg
Fish Farming in Central London::Benedetta Gargiulo

aainter3-3.jpg
King's Vineyard London::Soonil Kim

I won't pretend I have anything to add to Pruned's summary, other than a shared sense of appreciation for the sense of wonder these students have clearly approached their projects with.

More:
::The work of the other students in the studio can be seen here.
::Pruned should have a fourth project up, at some point. Keep an eye out.