iDon’t Need iT

July 2, 2007 Technology Comments (0) 1176

When I was much, much younger I wore watches but quickly tired of the habit – they would either break or get lost, like umbrellas and sunglasses. Living in a city at that time obviated the need for a watch, since every bank had a clock and there were office buildings with clock towers and you rarely had to look for long before you knew what time it was. It was like finding a Starbucks today. I haven’t worn a wristwatch in 20 years – I think the kicker was a digital watch I bought in Bangkok for $2 in 1986, which fell apart in two days. I also didn’t like having one on my wrist – the leather straps were smelly and I didn’t like the stretch bands much more. Continue Reading

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Modern Mischief

June 24, 2007 Chicago Buildings, Sustainability, Technology, Vision and Style Comments Off on Modern Mischief 1341

Jack Hartray was one of five “Mid-Century Modern” architects who spoke at the opening event of the Illinois Preservation Conference last week. Always an enjoyable speaker, Hartray mentioned that Gropius and the modernist masters of the Mid-20th-Century created a lot of “mischief” with a seemingly mischief-free command: make the building do what the client wants.

In a sense, this is the restatement of Louis Sullivan’s “Form Follows Function” and a central tenet of all modernist architectural thinking from the 1890s to the 1960s. But the “mischief” identified by Hartray was a classic failing in the hyper-aware three-dimensional art of modern architecture: the failure to appreciate the fourth dimension: Time. Even in the Time-Life Building. Continue Reading

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Sustainability vs. Architecture

March 5, 2007 Sustainability, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1129

This building was built for Lord Vishnu – The Preserver.

You hear a lot about sustainability in architecture and “green” design. Sustainability has become a holy word in urban design and architecture circles. If you wanted to build something in the 1960s, you talked about Progress. If you want to build something in the 1970s or 80s you talked about Community and Diversity. If you want to build something today, invoke the goddess Sustainability. Continue Reading

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February 7, 2007 Economics, Technology Comments (0) 1013

I pull out my laptop on the elevated train and begin typing this. The train follows tracks curving right, leaving the solid viaduct for steep supports in the street. I look over at the remaining tracks on the viaduct and there are open-topped coal hoppers stretching from Central Ave to Cicero, mounds of black flecked with white snow. I ponder only momentarily that long stretch of railcars full of coal and how much my computer depends on them.

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Christmas Tech is Here

December 21, 2006 Technology Comments (0) 930

Christmas is a good time to think about the impact of technology on life. Every Christmas there is a new iPod and a new xBox or perhaps a new Razr or HDTV. But because Christmas is a period of time defined by marketing and sales, it also lets us know, prima facie, what drove the technology behind the latest iBox or xPod or fNut: it wasn’t innovation and improvement: it was Christmas.

I suppose being in historic preservation gives you an excuse for creeping Luddism, but it is not a role I embrace wholeheartedly. I am always stung by the accusation of nostalgia, because as a historian I KNOW that the good old days weren’t and that every period in human history has been labeled as the worst of times. I love the technology that allows me to write this on the L, the technology that allows me to see through soft plastic lenses and buy things with a piece of magnetized plastic. There is wonder and the inklings of witnessing evolution at work when you watch teens multi-task on a range of electronic devices. I don’t want to be an old fogey any more than I want to be “nostalgic.” But maybe it gives me an insight into where innovation ends and hype begins. Continue Reading

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train of thoughts

December 18, 2006 Interpretation, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1021

The train I ride to work each day is lined with the lots of a changing city – buildings being built, demolished; lots cleared and cluttered again, landscapers, industries, condominiums and playgrounds. The “transformation” of the CHA and restorartion of the great landscape parks.

You see plenty of new buildings being built along the “L”, which makes sense because homes there have the added bonus of potential car-free transportation, the kind that soothes rather than angers the soul. The kind that allows you to write this down rather than listen to what some provocateur has to say and be further enflamed. Continue Reading

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Technology Dependence

November 1, 2006 Technology Comments Off on Technology Dependence 1193

One of the principles of Time Tells (this blog) is that history – the ongoing saga of humans – is not terribly linear. One of the best rebuttals of that position is, of course, technology. Here you are in the middle of something you could not have been in the middle of 15 years ago.

So how do you feel? Is technology so completely OTHER that its progress has not affected your affect? Or, are you now completely technology dependent and your list of items to have on a desert island starts with Blackberry and Apple (dessert island)?

I wrote two months ago about how little I need a car, thanks in large part to the location of my home and my work, neither of which are accidental. I have been sucked into e-mail as much as anyone, although (as I wrote about three months ago) I have hardly succumbed to the cell phone.

This makes me an old fogey, of course, but the more I think about it, the more clear it is that people have always been hopheads for technology, and when I say “hopheads,” I mean it in the most derogatory and abusive way. The iPod is a gun. Continue Reading

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August 2, 2006 Technology Comments (0) 1047

The heat index is 110 and it is another ozone alert day, when you are supposed to drive less. Of course the traffic is always worse on these days and the overheating AC is spiking emissions no end.

It’s 8 AM and I have to take the kids two miles to day camp, then I need to travel nine miles downtown to my office, then later go to a meeting that is eight miles in another direction from my office, go back to my office, then back home, then go pick up the kids, take them home, then run to the grocery store and the hardware store.

There was a day a year ago when I was sitting in my house in Oak Park at 2 PM trying to figure out how I could go take a picture of Robie House in Hyde Park (16 miles away), stop downtown (8 miles) to do some paperwork, and then pick up supplies at a store in Bucktown about 3 miles northwest of downtown, and then get back to Oak Park (10 miles) by 5 PM. Continue Reading

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Jane Jacobs Dead

April 27, 2006 Historic Districts, History, Sustainability, Technology, Vision and Style Comments (0) 1295

Jane Jacobs, whose 1961 book The Death and Life of Great American Cities whupped the ass of the architectural and planning establishment, has died. Jacobs wrote until the end of her life, just a week before her 90th birthday, but that first book was the barn-burner. “A city cannot be a work of art.” She said, and italicized it to make sure we got the point. The city is organic, said Jacobs. You can’t plan it.

Jacobs emerged as a community activist who took down (an already wounded) Robert Moses and launched the concept that neighbors had a right to say how their neighborhood looked and what should go in it. A fifty-year history of urban planning as an elite, expert enterprise ended on Hudson Street in Greenwich Village when Jacobs systematically disemboweled the “Radiant Garden City” of Howard, Burnham, LeCorbusier and Moses.

A housewife and mother who pulled apart the metalogic of urban planning. She wasn’t just against urban renewal – she understood it better than its proponents. My favorite part of Death and Life –which I assigned in my seminar this semester – is near the end when she exposes the pseudo-science of urban planning. Twenty years earlier Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture had trumpeted modern architecture and planning as an expression of the new Einsteinian understanding of space and time. Jacobs exposed this as a rank falsehood. Continue Reading

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replace your windows

April 3, 2006 Technology, Vision and Style, Window Replacement Comments (0) 1506

Image: The permanent fog of a 1980s replacement window.

Friday there was an article about replacement windows in the Tribune. Like most consumer-oriented pieces, it warned about the pitfalls and pitches of various types of window replacement – wood is a better insulator but more expensive; plastics can’t match colors and look like crap; installation makes all the difference. The last point is a good one – a large fraction of people who replace their windows don’t get much energy savings because the key is the window frame and if it is not replaced, the air just runs right around those new $500 double-glazed tilt-pacs.

But the key consumer decision was left out of this article, as it usually is. How about repair? The sustainable answer, the answer that employs people but pollutes less. Continue Reading

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