The premise of the internet blog is the same as the premise of the 1960s pirate radio station, the 1910s literary journal or the 1770s broadside: you can say whatever you want, partially cloaked by relative anonymity and fueled by the rapid-fire immediacy of the medium. I had this impish thought about podcasting the meeting I was in a week ago Tuesday, but the fact is that I can’t say anything about it to anyone until next week. This is not unusual –more than occasionally I possess embargoed information or insights, and their confidence is kept by human, not technological means. Continue Reading
I have taught Preservation Planning for more than a dozen years and I always include a lecture called “Churches, Theaters and Other Difficult Buildings”. These buildings are “difficult” because they are functionally obsolescent: They were designed for large public assemblies in a pre-automobile era, and nowadays assemblies don’t happen so much. Vaudeville movie theaters combined live and cinematic entertainment and we don’t do that anymore either. Movie theaters today need to have lots of screens for maybe 200 people each, and even big markets like Chicago can only support a handful of live performance venues of 4,000 seats or so. Churches become obsolescent when denominations change, as they have in Chicago neighborhoods for over 40 years, and despite the lingering religiosity of Americans, many people are in exurban superchurches or use religiosity as a wedge against preserving historical features of their buildings. Continue Reading
In Germany they speak German and in China they speak Chinese. You can have romantic fantasies about how languages and countries are superior or inferior to your own. Or you can just see them as different – with their own advantages and disadvantages. I feel the same about technology. I have become a digital professor, using Powerpoint and the Internet instead of slides, despite the fact that I still have 15 linear feet of slide notebooks at home. In 1994 you used slides and in 2007 you use Powerpoint. You can have romantic fantasies about how these media are superior or inferior to each other. Or you can just see them as different.
There is a gulf, a chasm that we have all crossed, and we can call it modernity. We crossed it the moment we left tribal, village-based society, handicrafts and oral folklore and joined global, interconnected society, industry and mass media. Modernity has a lot of cohorts, conditions that accompany that transition. One is the impulse to preserve the pre-industrial, pre-Modern past. Another is Romanticism, that wistful apprehension of times and places removed and thus desirable. So we see the past and foreign countries through a romantic lens, believing they have something we have lost. Hence David Lowenthal said the Past is a Foreign Country. Continue Reading
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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