It is essential to name the manner in which our profession’s silence is assent. In its purest form, we have an obligation to protect the people’s health, safety, and welfare in and through the spaces we design. This commitment extends beyond the boundary of our buildings and landscapes and into the public realm. We narrow and neglect these commitments often on the backs of the perpetually marginalized and to the detriment of the field. Architecture has been the backdrop and often the instigator for violence on black bodies throughout this nation’s history. This is the case, in large part, because white America has found it all too easy to transpose its capital and beliefs into physical space, allowing the architecture to covertly project power in the name of white supremacy without the burden of having to sustain the unpleasant acts of overt racism themselves.
But when appealing to a highly educated, mobile, upper-middle class resident or employer, uniqueness gives way to a candied sameness. While publicly funded arts and cultural planning efforts can serve to materially improve the lives of residents, top-down, developer-centric efforts can result in a homogenous banality. The effect is an algorithmic kind of beauty: sleek and modern, while also gorily Frankenstein-esque. Popped color palettes, parklets, and glass-walled buildings make cities indistinguishable from each other. It’s the architectural equivalent of “Instagram face,” designed with the robotic pragmatism of a targeted ad. In coding design elements towards wealth and the professional class, cities and developers also necessarily code aesthetics toward the sensibilities of white urban transplants, given the makeup of this class.
From Slicker Cities by Saritha Ramakrishna (via Paris Marx)
In this edition: public opinion, Stanislaw Lem, more spreading, porn, Dutch cursing, being foreign, restaurant restrictions, appeasing the enemy, and architects.
Three dormant storefronts on the main drag in downtown St. Johns, although one of them was in the slow process of becoming a coffeeshop (after getting flooded out of their location nearby) when the pandemic hit.
Looking out and across the St. Johns Bridge toward Forest Park and the world beyond during a Sunday walk through a Spring pandemic afternoon.
One way in which the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has changed my blogging: I’ve too much to read and not enough wherewithal in my brain to say much about any of it. So, instead, these round-up posts.
“This isn’t a temporary disruption,” argues Gideon Lichfield. “It’s the start of a completely different way of life.”
There’ll be some adaptation, of course: gyms could start selling home equipment and online training sessions, for example. We’ll see an explosion of new services in what’s already been dubbed the “shut-in economy.” One can also wax hopeful about the way some habits might change—less carbon-burning travel, more local supply chains, more walking and biking.
But the disruption to many, many businesses and livelihoods will be impossible to manage. And the shut-in lifestyle just isn’t sustainable for such long periods.
“Infections don’t just attack weaknesses in the human body,” writres Laurie Penny. “They also exploit weaknesses in human society.”
That, as they say on the twitter-dot-com, is a real heckin problem. The collective psychology of neoliberalism encourages self-interest and short-term thinking. It both creates and requires human lives that are organized around the kind of constant insecurity and stress that actively prevent us from thinking beyond the next fiscal quarter. The diseases that are most successful in the coming century will, as always, be the diseases that exploit our major failure modes and popular delusions.
“The lateness of today’s newsletter reflects the fact that time isn’t real anymore,” muses Drew Austin, “and everything is blurring together.”
“Check-lists and rules of thumb, pivot tables and diagrams — techniques, as well as tools — helped usher in world-shrinking improvements to navigation and communication,” notes Anton Howes. “And much the same could be said of healthcare.”
“This is the kind of story that, as a critic, I am loath to write,” laments Mark Lamster: “a response to a national catastrophe in which architecture has no direct role.”
Driving around is a lonely, gut-churning business, because the city is so obviously not itself. What’s missing are people, and not just their physical presence, but their energy. Without people to animate them, buildings and places are just coordinates on a map, empty vessels. A city becomes an archaeological site.
“We’ve known about SARS-CoV-2 for only three months,” reads the subhead on Ed Yong’s biography of the virus, “but scientists can make some educated guesses about where it came from and why it’s behaving in such an extreme way.”
The new virus certainly seems to be effective at infecting humans, despite its animal origins. The closest wild relative of SARS-CoV-2 is found in bats, which suggests it originated in a bat, then jumped to humans either directly or through another species. (Another coronavirus found in wild pangolins also resembles SARS-CoV-2, but only in the small part of the spike that recognizes ACE2; the two viruses are otherwise dissimilar, and pangolins are unlikely to be the original reservoir of the new virus.) When SARS-classic first made this leap, a brief period of mutation was necessary for it to recognize ACE2 well. But SARS-CoV-2 could do that from day one. “It had already found its best way of being a [human] virus,” says Matthew Frieman of the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Pleased to discover that my walk down to the river for photos of the St. Johns Bridge during Saturday’s snowfall very definitely was not a complete waste after all, because look at these.
What heightened the mood of those evenings on the roof, aside from our vertiginous height? Every proper rooftop offers a sense of seclusion, an “eye” on the street, along with the sense that you cannot be seen, though could be; other tenants might imminently appear on your rooftop or on those nearby. It is exactly this partial escape from the gaze of Jacobs’s “natural proprietors”—the blurring of that “clear demarcation” of public and private space—that gives the rooftop its delicate promise of mischief and freedom. Also its intimation of danger: there is no community policing here, just you policing your proximity to the edge. Thus, there pervades on the rooftop a mood of celebratory misdemeanor, further aided by the fact that it is uncolonized by purpose. There’s no one thing you’re supposed to do on a roof, and, more crucially, nothing that’s technically forbidden. It is a private space exposed to public view, and yet with fluid rules of public conduct.
From Ode to Rooftops by Jessi Jezewska Stevens (via MetaFilter)
On my fatigue-defying photowalk on Saturday, I came across this iron works facility down the hill in St. Johns, and was struck by its architectural contrasts.
Killing time with urban architecture and transit infrastructure while waiting for the bus at SW 1st & Oak in downtown Portland while listening to The Juliana Hatfield Three.
It’s true that I’m primarily reading Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City looking for interesting observations about urban planning and cities that might have analogues when it comes to online communities, but along the way I am learning about some fascinating projects in the former realm. For instance, the work of Alejandro Aravena to build half of a good house rather than a whole bad house. In essence, rather than taking the available $X and building a small house that will never really fulfill a family’s needs, you build half of a larger, better house which comes with an empty space into which the family themselves can expand as they see fit and when they can afford to do so.
The convergence of three blues while walking through downtown St. Johns on a winter afternoon.
Step one: issue an executive order prohibiting any new federal architecture other than (neo-) Classical. Step two, inevitably: build the Trump Monument on the National Mall.
But advocates for traditional architecture should think carefully before supporting a government position on design, says Goldberger. While it might suit their interests in the short term for the White House to declare classical design as the national style, classicism could also come to be seen as a mere manifestation of Trumpism, a symbol akin to the border wall or family detention centers. “In the long term, to be associated with all the extreme right-wing positions of the current administration will not do the movement of contemporary classicism any good,” Goldberger says.
According to Anthropocene’s Prachi Patel, in the future our walls will be made of bacteria—with a little help from sand, gelatin, growth enzymes, and calcium chloride. And the bricks will reproduce (sort of).