I have had the good fortune to serve on the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy Board for the last three years, and this has availed me of several opportunities to tour this great architect’s work.
The living room in Robie House, Chicago, shot by my daughter Felicity.
Alfred Giles emigrated to America in the 1870s after studying architecture in his native England. Moving to San Antonio from New York in 1875, he became one of the most prolific and important architects in San Antonio. In 1875 he designed the stunning Second Empire Steves Homestead in the King William District, which is open daily for tours. Continue Reading
Where are the people? Why don’t they flock here?
I just read Colin Ellard’s Places of the Heart: The Psychogeography of Everyday Life because I saw a reference to his studies, which measure how buildings and landscapes affect our bodies and minds, our thoughts and emotions. He famously tracked persons’ stress levels as they encountered blank and forbidding urban scenes versus human-scaled and interesting ones. Blank and forbidding facades increase cortisol and stress. Varied and humane ones trigger dopamine. Continue Reading
Who doesn’t adore their own adolescent brain?
Eight years ago I wrote a blog with this title, to remind us that we often think our way past reality. Despite our ongoing technological revolution the human mind still has a series of fallback postures that fail to perceive reality but instead distort it – simplify it, really – to make it fit into categories more satisfying to our adolescent brains. Continue Reading
Small agricultural plots in Dali Dong village, Guizhou
Later this month I will be heading to Associazone Canova in Italy to participate in the 14th Annual Architectural Encounter so I am thinking about the future of architecture.
My three years in Silicon Valley have demonstrated the revolutionary transformation of human interaction and the infrastructure of our environment: the landscapes, pathways, and buildings we inhabit. The App Age of Über and Airbnb and Google has reprogrammed our normal relationship to goods; services, and to space itself. Interviews are carried out in coffee shops, coffee shops are in libraries, homes are hotels, cars are taxis and even clothing may not have a single owner. Clients are no longer fixed but fluid, and the key design element for future resilience will be in fact fluidity: the space, the plot, the wall or the wearable that can adjust to the next radical disruption.
As a human society we are arguably moving away from the settled lifestyle we pioneered 11,000 years ago when we shifted from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Continue Reading
I had the opportunity, thanks to the wonderful Mark Davis, to again speak at Palm Springs Modernism Week, which is the coolest, most colorful preservation event anywhere. I reprised my 2011 talk on Preserving Modernism in Chicago with an update on those icons of Modernism, the Farnsworth House (how do I flood thee? Let me count the ways….), the sadly demolished Prentice Women’s Hospital (Philistines is too good a word – the Philistines were in fact civilized) and of course the soon to be geothermal Unity Temple. So let’s get these pictures out of the way so we can move on to Palm Springs itself. Continue Reading
This is the building in Harlem New York where Ralph Ellison wrote Invisible Man. There have been extensive alterations, some of which were there in 1947 when he wrote the book.
This week Ray Bradbury’s classic book Fahrenheit 451 was occupying our living room couch because my daughter was reading it as a high school assignment. As I did, as many of us did. It is a classic about the need for books, for culture, in the face of dystopia. At the same time, the author’s home for over 50 years was being demolished a few hundred miles to the south, in Los Angeles, by the prize-winning architect Thom Mayne. You can see the demolition and read about it here. People are so upset that Mayne himself said it was “a bummer,” and you know how hard it is to crack an architect’s ego.
But the larger and more interesting question is: How do we preserve the legacy, the memory, the significance of a literary landmark? The issue is at the heart of many of our current debates about the National Register of Historic Places and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards, both of which are geared toward architecture and are not always ideally suited to the preservation of memory, of culture, of the rich loam that nourishes books like Fahrenheit 451 and all of the students who have read it for the last half-century. Here are a few examples I have used to illustrate literary landmarks over the years, and each of them betrays an architectural modesty, if not monstrosity. They are significant not because of their form, but because of what happened there. Continue Reading
Prince Charles of England, who famously got involved in the world of architecture and urbanism nearly 30 years ago with a notorious speech to architects deriding modernism, has released last month in Architectural Review a list of ten principles for urban planning and design. Those of us in the heritage preservation world have generally been fond of Albion’s heir and his advocacy of the virtues of tradition in architecture, although most of us become uncomfortable pitting tradition against modernism, fearing both the superficiality of style and a reduction of our cause into a formalist debate. Continue Reading