Morning Ed: Cities {2018.04.05.Th}

[Ci1] There has been a “sea change” in the architecture community over glass skyscrapers.

[Ci2] A look at the future of New York City’s skyline.

[Ci3] The Rust Belt’s loss, the Sun Belt’s gain, and a great new term called “mesofacts.”

[Ci4] It’s important to get female input in city design. Or perhaps have women designing them alongside men.

[Ci5] If Chile is a ridiculously contrived country that would be laughed out of any fantasy map (and it is), New Orleans is a stupid unrealistic one.

[Ci6] Speaking of New Orleans, meet the unexpected beneficiaries of Hurricane Katrina: evacuees.

[Ci7] If you’re looking for the most cultured city in the US, maybe you should look at the middle (and not just Chicago).

[Ci8] North Carolina’s cities are doing well by African-Americans.

[Ci9] Nashville is becoming the bachelorette capital of the country. I’m not sure there is a city in the country with more upward potential than Nashville.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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50 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Cities {2018.04.05.Th}

  1. Ci5: Chile only looks ridiculous if you leave the Andes off the map. Add in the detail that there is a nearly impenetrable mountain range behind this coastal strip of arable land and it makes perfect sense. See also: Norway.

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    • It’s not just the mountains, but also that the population is heavily located on the center rather than being dispersed up and down, which makes it harder to split up. If it were more dispursed up and down, there is a decent chance you’d have a northern country and a southern one, or maybe three or more.

      But all of those things feel like a contrived setup by the mapbuilders to give Chile it’s weird shape. It all gives the sense of trying too hard.

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        • It’s not a test that is passed or failed. It’s that in Chile’s case, it was obviously an attempt by the fantasy map makers to justify Chile’s odd shape. Whereas in Colorado (for example) the state’s shape is not contrived, so we can only assume that the population distribution was written in to the state for some other reason or no particular reason at all.

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      • I don’t know. The claim strikes me as like looking at a random string of ones and zeros and being surprised that sometimes you get a whole bunch of one or the other in a row.

        The real place that looks to me like bullshit is San Diego Bay. Here you have a two hundred mile stretch of essentially featureless coastline. The map maker decided that this is boring, so he took an eraser to a bit of coastline smack in the middle of the featureless stretch and put in this obviously fake perfect harbor. My guess is that in reality Coronado and the strip of land connecting it to the mainland are essentially a big sandbar, with Point Loma providing the shelter allowing the bar to form. The result is the simplistic ideal of a harbor.

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        • Can’t speak to San Diego Bay as I haven’t thought about it, but San Diego and Tijuana being right across the border from one another does feel a bit forced. It would feel more forced if they swapped the location of Los Angeles and San Diego, though, and maybe made Tijuana a little bit larger.

          There is a similar dynamic between El Paso and Juarez. One of the safest cities in the country next to one of the more violent in the world*. If they had really wanted to stress the point, though, they would have made El Paso a little larger, or swapped it with San Antonio. El Paso is a bit non-descript for the role.

          * – “The Bridge” plays on this concept to maximum effect.

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        • Coronado is a tied island — the end is a real island, connected to the mainland by a sandbar stable enough to last for hundreds of years (Europeans reached the bay in 1542). Tied islands are not uncommon globally. San Francisco Bay and Humboldt Bay, California’s other large natural bays, are equally peculiar.

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          • The fact that it’s a sandbar is still obvious today, despite the tons of concrete and rock we’ve dumped on it over the years to make it more stable (I was stationed there for a while for ‘C’ school).

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      • “It’s not just the mountains, but also that the population is heavily located on the center rather than being dispersed up and down, which makes it harder to split up. If it were more dispursed up and down, there is a decent chance you’d have a northern country and a southern one, or maybe three or more.”

        Perhaps the desert in the north and the polar Antarctic cold in the south have something to do with the population being concentrated in the center

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  2. Ci7: An interesting exercise in how to come up with a definition of “most cultured city” that produces an counterintuitive result. But really, is it surprising that in a place with one good museum, everyone inclined to buy a museum membership goes that that one museum, while in places with lots of good museums the membership pool is split among them?

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    • Still interesting how many of “the 30 most visited [art] museums in the US” are outside of the largest cities. I think one issue might be something else in that the most significant collections are probably in NY and DC and the attendance is national and international. But that doesn’t necessarily explain Bentonville, which probably gets its attendance at least in part due to proximity to Branson.

      The underlying question though is interesting. I’ve visited friends who’ve not been to some cultural amenity (in the broader sense, not just art museums) that I really wish to see, and have had visiting friends balk at local places of international interest. Usually, something isn’t particularly in their wheelhouse, not that they are uncultured, or its something always there and so there is no hurry.

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      • Bentonville is easily explained by the shitload of Walmart money floating around town. There is a long tradition of rich people supporting local cultural institutions. This is how you end up with, for example, a fantastic world-class symphony in Cleveland.

        The phenomenon of the locals not going to cultural attractions (broadly defined) is commonplace. A friend is stopping by for a couple of days while on vacation and wants to do vacation stuff. For some people, this means cultural attractions. The first time I saw the Liberty Bell, for example, was when I was living in Philly and had a friend from California visiting. I’ll probably take the kids sometime, that being a “take the kids” thing to do. Actually, there are lots of things like this that I am perfectly happy to visit, but only actually do when going with someone from out of town.

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  3. Ci7: I am largely on Rich’s side here. While I do remember hearing that the average resident of Minneapolis attends more plays than the average New Yorker (and Minneapolis has some great theatre companies), this seems counter-intuitive. New York is still an embarrassment of riches when it comes to art and culture. I won’t even bother listing all the museums, music spaces, theatre companies, arthouse movie theatres, etc.

    Ci9: The picture of the blonde woman in the white tutu posing next to the homeless guy with the stroke sign was kind of shocking and cruel. Otherwise this article was rather fascinating especially this part:

    “Tourists always went to the honky-tonks on Broadway. They always went to the Opry. But this new type of tourism, centered on Instagram-friendly experiences — and the mobility and capital it requires — means it’s touching more areas of the city, and accelerating the already rapid transformation of a sleepy, artsy Southern town into a cluster of “destinations.” As that happens, attention to the past — and the things that made and continue to make Nashville feel unique and vibrant and desirable — is swallowed by the desire to document the present. None of these developments are novel to Nashville; at least a dozen people told me “Nashville feels like Austin, 10 years ago.” But that decade is telling: Austin’s ghost has largely been bulldozed and built over with box condos. Nashville’s is still just visible enough to haunt it.”

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  4. [Ci3] contained a nugget that I did not know: Many Rust Belt cities are experiencing strong per-capita GDP growth but not any population growth. This actually sounds like a turnaround for these places is in progress.

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    • They are losing families, so if for example, a family of four leaves, that would mean a loss of four people, but only one or two incomes. If the remaining population consists of fewer families, per capita gdp rises. In Chicago, its mostly black families.

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  5. Ci1:
    What architects prefer not to talk about is why there is a shift away from glass boxes, which is because they are just plain boring.

    Nope, it isn’t some high minded thing about energy or sustainability or blah blah, its that glass curtain walls pretty much want to be flat and gridded, and the current desire for ziggy zaggy* irregularity doesn’t lend itself to that.

    *Sorry to lapse into technical jargon, but there’s no other alternative here.

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      • Part of my architectural fantasy is to make paintings imagining what the world would look like if the Modern movement had not happened and instead of the International Style, the works of Louie Sullivan, Wright, or Goodhue were the ones that inspired 20th Century skyscapers?

        This article about the Chicago Tribune competition shows that hinge point, when architecture turned from one direction to the other. Although the Neo-Gothic design won, it was the last hurrah as the International Style captured the imagination of architects.

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    • If you go inside one of those glass office towers, you will see a wall of closed blinds to keep out the natural light, and fluorescent tubes illuminating the place in their typical bland sickly glow.

      Because sunlight makes computer screens unreadable, so it’s an adversary in office environments.

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      • Indeed. And of course they are insanely energy wasteful.
        But on another level, the notion of having “walls of glass” as a desirable thing has counterbalancing considerations.
        One of the delights of doors and windows is to provide a sense of liminal space, demarcating and measuring that boundary between inside and outside.

        A framed window can help the user adjust their sense of scale and enclosure. So having a sill at waist height and a head at ceiling height helps the window become a portal to the outside.
        And frankly, on most buildings, about half of the glass is actually “spandrel” that is, solid opaque where the glass crosses a floor or column construction. It is made out of glass just to keep the outside of the building monolithic.

        Which is also a problem; (now that you got me on a rant); buildings are and always have been expressions of power, a collection of capital and labor and land all put together in one place.

        When buildings become blank monoliths, and our eye cannot read them, it conveys a message of power that is inscrutable, mysterious and hidden. Reference this building, the Cal Trans building in Los Angeles. (Looking ever so much like a Ministry building from a reboot of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil). Reference almost anything made by Zaha Hadid or Daniel Libeskind.

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        • Further to that, the power players who have offices with windows like having that floor to ceiling glass, so they can stand aloft and survey their perceived external domain. All the better to look down on the little people.

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          • As much as I love the old traditional forms of architecture, I have to remind myself that every one of those beautiful old castles, manor houses, cathedrals and palaces was constructed atop a foundation of cruelty, slavery, and injustice.

            I suppose my objection to modern forms isn’t that they are any less an expression of power and privilege, but that the modern power of our ruling class is decoupled from a shared worldview.

            A Medici prince and the peasant who set the tile on his floors spoke the same cultural language, shared a common frame of reference about the nature of the world and how it worked and should be.

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            • “A Medici prince and the peasant who set the tile on his floors spoke the same cultural language, shared a common frame of reference about the nature of the world and how it worked and should be.”

              You know, we all say that but I’m honestly not so sure it’s as true as we tend to think it is.

              Even less true as you get further away from an artisan and closer to the actual peasantry.

              Hence revolts.

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              • Yes, there is truth that that, in that even in medieval times the royalty were a transnational class like they are today, marrying each other and having more in common with each other than with their own subjects.

                I think what I am trying to get at is that if you look at a cathedral, lets say, it was built in a language where it looked like it was reacting to gravity; heaver and wider at the bottom, tapering up to a spire at the top.
                It was made of natural materials that aged and oxidized to a patina, showing a relationship and reaction to the wind and rain and weather.
                It would be decorated with recognizable figures and illustrations that the illiterate people could grasp.
                There was a very obvious order to it all, and equally obvious statement of purpose and power.

                THIS IS TRUTH it said, THIS IS THE NATURAL ORDER, and it seemed intuitively obvious, unquestionable.
                That it was used to conceal a rapacious bloodthirsty prince or pope was irrelevant; It communicated a view of the world and order of the universe that every one grasped and shared.

                Looking at a modern building, like these my eyes just don’t see it. I see power aplenty, a massive agglomeration of capital and political control. I just don’t see order. I see power without visible control.

                Because it appears to be power without control, it seems eerie and sinister to me somehow, again like out of a Python skit, where there is this arbitrary and mysterious power that is indifferent to human affairs. I’m almost waiting for a giant cartoon foot to fall down and squash the people.

                I just know what my eyes tell me.

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                • Hmn. What about a building like this? http://www.predock.com/Cornerstone/Cornerstone.html

                  I was averse to it at first but it’s been growing on me over the last few years, as the copper greens, and it definitely seems to my untrained eye to have those things you describe, despite its extreme modernity and even despite its asymmetry. (And it’s literally copiously illustrated inside, in both literate and preliterate symbols, because it has several 3 story high chalkboards that get erased out and re-arted on the regular – that doesn’t show in these photos very well.)

                  Either way, thanks for elaborating, I enjoyed reading it and I definitely see your point better now.

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                  • When non-architects ask me about buildings, I always say, “trust your eyes”, because architecture is like music, it hits you in that non-rational place where you either like it or you don’t.
                    If you like it, it speaks to you in some way.

                    For my eyes, the overall massing of shapes is pleasing, but the geometric copper clad oddity seems a bit contrived and “arty”.

                    But as ever, YMMV.

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                    • Yeah, that was my initial reaction too. What those photos don’t show is how the copper oddity has started to blend in more as it greens and be less contrived and out-sticking … hard to capture even now in a picture, but it’s really shifted the look of the place.

                      I was mostly struck by how most of your list of qualities is in some way attachable to that building, regardless of whether and how much I like it :).

                      (And I never trust my eyes, academically speaking, about architecture, because I find Brutalism “homey” which basically means I’m utterly weirdly calibrated compared to the rest of the world. The Frank Zappa of architecture appreciation, or something. Seriously though! It holds moss really well! It ages quite beautifully! Brut concrete is… sigh. Never mind.)

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