Friday, November 27, 2009

Architecture without Rules

Paul Barker from the Times Online wrote an article about Architecture without rules that has criticized the effects oc city planning on cities. He writes:

"Urban planning has led to shoddiness, squalor and ugliness in our cities. Let’s throw away the rulebook and allow people to build where they want..."

Shots fired.

You know the funny thing is, whenever we let architects do their own thing on a mass level in cities, they almost always forget about the human scale. Or they come up with an abstract theory for a new human scale or try to completely revolutionize the parameters human scale. Need I remind the writer that Le Corbusier's influence on the International modernist style of architecture and planning that led to some of the most bland and unimaginative buildings ever built that often lacked context with it's surrounding environment. Le Corbusier's vision of "the city and the park" also helped create isolated office and residential towers that enforced the separation of land uses and limited the connectivity of people and urban places.

In the U.S. (the writer is from England) we have let many cities and architects do what they want. And the cities of Los Angeles, Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Atlanta have all perfected Le Corbusier's plan to a tee and all of these five cities lack a central downtown and a sense of place.

Now this is not to knock all architects who which to plan the urban landscape. There have been many architects who have done great jobs in creating buildings to human scale and creating great master planned communities.

But back to the article. Barker's main point is that the conservation of rural land outside of English cities has dramatically risen housing prices in cities. He argues from a conservative standpoint that people should be allowed to build anywhere in the green pastures in suburbia that they like. Again I would like to point to the American cities of Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston to show him how great that has worked out.

What's your opinion? How do you feel about architecture without planning and development without boundaries?

Cool Hunting's Baltimore: A Word-of-Mouth Guide

This video tours Baltimore, MD, relying on the people who live there to lead us from place to place. Starting with DJ Blaqstarr, visiting the Station North Arts District and with a few other stops along the way, it's a portrait of a city represented by its residents.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

American Casino Trailer

A good chunk of this movie was filmed in my fair city of Baltimore.

Politicians and the media like to talk about the relationship between Wall Street and Main Street, but investigative journalist Leslie Cockburn's debut feature gets to the guts of the matter, visiting defectors from Bear Stearns and Standard and Poor's and other high-level players in the subprime mortgage gamble and, on the flipside, visiting the working-class Americans who were the unwitting chips on the table. Screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. For more information and tickets, visit

Monday, November 16, 2009

Informal Cities

Swiped from the Africa Unchained blog:

An excerpt from Robert Neuwirth's Lecture 'The Extroverted City of System D' a contribution to the book Open City:

In Lagos, everything is informal. The bus system is informal—the government got out of mass transit business decades ago (though it has recently stepped back into public transport with a bus rapid transit line) and the system that includes more than 75,000 danfos was held together informally by the National Union of Road Transport Workers as one-part mass transit and one-part Ponzi scheme. One of the largest formal supermarkets in Lagos buys most of its product from informal wholesalers. Some major multinationals here distribute their products through informal networks. And informal merchants invest in the formal world.

Authorities in the city acknowledge that as much as 80 percent of the work force—and Lagos has between nine and 17 million inhabitants, depending on where you draw the boundaries and who’s doing the counting—is involved in the informal sector. The federal government also suggests that somewhere around 60 to 70 percent of the country’s economic activity derives in some way from the informal sector—and this means that, in aggregate, merchants like Prince Chidi Onyeyirim and Fatai Agbalaya are more important to Nigeria’s future than Shell, Mobil, and Chevron, the multinational oil giants that pump sweet crude from the Niger River Delta.

As Mega-Cities continue to explode in population around the world (particularly in Africa) they continue to stretch the conceptual frameworks of what cities were meant to be and how they are organized. Most modern cities may appear to chaotic but when examined closely, they are heavily structured and organized systems that control and dictate the flow of traffic, development, water, sewage, air and open space. The lack of those uniform structural systems in dense urban places creates chaos and challenges the belief of whether that urban place is truly a defined city jurisdiction with a definitive boundaries to the city's power of influence and control. The uninformed mega-cities of today have no beginnings and endings to the jurisdiction's scope of power.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Top Five Comic Book Cities

Interesting note on Gotham City:

So there you are…..anyway, usually it serves as a backdrop but in the ‘Destroyer’ story arc in DC’s Legends of the Dark Knight monthly comic, the architecture of Gotham City was a central character. Destroyer focused on a crazed architectural historian obsessed with reviving the work of Gotham town planner Cyrus Pinkey. Before Batman intervenes, most of Gotham’s contemporary glass and concrete skyscrapers which had obscured Pinky’s gothic extravagances, are destroyed by the ‘Mad Bomber’.

However, this story was actually a rather brazen piece of opportunistic ‘masterplanning’ by Batman’s editors who wanted the Gotham in the comic books to resemble the one in depicted in Tim Burton’s film – in order to attract new readers. In Destroyer, Pinky’s towers are a dead ringer for Anton Furst’s designs for the film (see Furst’s sketches in the slideshow above).