28 June 2006

blandness at ground zero, cont'd

David Childs and SOM just revealed the updated design for the Freedom Tower. Seems they've converted an oppressive 187 ft. metal-covered concrete base to an oppressive 187 ft. glass-covered concrete base. Brilliant.

link: "Architects Unveil New Design for Freedom Tower" in the New York Times

26 June 2006


Aric Chen resurfaces (after his departure from the Architect's Newspaper gossip column) in today's Times with a piece on John Portman and his many super-hotels. I must confess a certain awe/admiration for Portman's spaces -- on more than one occasion, I have wandered around the Marriot Marquis in Times Square just for the hell of it, watching those retro-round elevator pods shoot up into the impossible atrium/void. In this respect, I definitely sympathize with Koolhaas's simultaneous contempt and fascination with Portman's hotels -- and I think his suggestion in S,M,L,XL of the isomorphism between Portman's voided hotels and the decentered nature of Atlanta offers quite a strong critique of both. (Yet I should note that I think the true source of Koolhaas's admiration of Portman is not the architecture, but rather the megolomania.) Of course, Koolhaas was not the first to appropriate Portman as a symptom of broader cultural developments; Fredric Jameson's seminal 1984 article "Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism" introduced Portman's Bonaventure Hotel in L.A. as the archetypal "postmodern hyperspace," with its "milling confusion" of the bewildering atrium, elevators, escalators, and aimless wanderers. Chen hints at the Jameson text when he mentions the labyrinthine, disorienting nature of Portman's spaces, but mostly his commentary presents a watered-down interpretation of Portman's architecture, with lines like the following: " Their cylindrical tinted-glass towers sparkled atop concrete podiums, while inside, ficus-filled Xanadus of flying walkways, spiraling stairs and cantilevered terraces were waiting to be discovered — an ideal habitat for the modern nomad in search of a well-garnished cocktail." Surely there's more to modern nomadism, and more at stake in Portman's hotels, then the quest for booze? Too bad Chen didn't delve deeper... but then again, it's just a Travel section article.

link: "The Kubla Khan of Hotels" by Aric Chen, in the New York Times

20 June 2006

new digs in baghdad

Some quick facts about the new United States Embassy currently under construction in Baghdad:

  • 104 acre site
  • $592 million (more than the price tag for the WTC memorial complex)
  • intended to house, feed, and entertain 8,000 employees
  • construction is contracted out to a Kuwaiti firm known for questionable labor practices
The Nation has a characteristically over-the-top piece on the embassy that nonetheless gets the point across. My favorite excerpt:
Democrats demanding an exit strategy from Iraq are routinely derided by the Bush Administration as cowards who "cut and run." But if this Embassy plan is not a form of cut and run, what is it? Instead of cutting and making a run for Kuwait, they intend to cut and run into what amounts to the world's largest bunker, a capacious rat hole where they can wait in safety until all the Iraqis have killed one another or all factions unite, march on this air-conditioned citadel and slit the throats of its irrelevant inhabitants.
link: "Bush's Baghdad Palace" by Nicholas von Hoffman, in the Nation
link: "Giant U.S. Embassy Rising in Baghdad" by Barbara Slavin, in USA TODAY

blandness at ground zero

The LMDC today released new plans and images for the revised WTC memorial. The design has successfully been whittled down from Michael Arad's original (if boring) competition-winning scheme to an exercise in total blandness and gutlessness. Just another fantastic product of design-by-committee. The amazing thing is that the primary impetus to reduce the design's ambition was to reduce costs -- to below a $500 million price tag. $500 million, and this is what they came up with? Two square reflecting pools and a grove of trees?! It all makes me long for the mediocrity of the original scheme.

link: "New Plan Unveiled for W.T.C. Memorial" in the New York Times
link: Lower Manhattan Development Corporation

18 June 2006

progressive reactionary cartography

This website represented as a network of links, tags, connections, etc. [Websites as Graphs via BLDGBLOG]

new urbanism for the military

Via Subtopia and Planetizen: An article in the Times about the Villages at Belvoir, a new collection of New Urbanist housing development on the grounds of Fort Belvoir in northern Virgina. Strange bedfellows? Not really. It makes sense that Rumsfeld's Department of Defense would want to hire the most prestigious of our nation's reactionary architects to design new housing for military bases. While the ambition to provide new and better housing stock for men and women in uniform is admirable, isn't it disturbing that the Army would enthusiastically embrace a stage-set architecture of false nostalgia?
link: "New Urbanism: It's in the Army Now" by William Hamilton, in the New York Times

17 June 2006

a fence with more beauty

The Times has asked a handful of architects to propose creative responses to the U.S. - Mexico "border fence" that surely, in one form or another, will play a part in the immigration reform legislation currently under debate in Congress. It's an interesting premise, and a worthy attempt by the Times to inject some sort of creative or imaginitive impulse into what promises to be a purely functional, fortress-like endeavor. Unfortunately, both the journalistic effort and the architectural responses fall short. The most provocative ideas come from landscape architect James Corner, who has proposed a large-scale hybrid of heavy industry and green infrastructure as a way to activate the border and transform a place of conflict into a zone of production. These conversations, however, should be taking place beyond the pages of the Week in Review section of the New York Times. Progressive politicians should stop bickering over whether this fence will take shape and should immediately start brainstorming about exactly what shape it will take. Of course, if I were to make a wager, I'd say that our impending border fence would resemble more Israel's West Bank barrier than Corner's utopian imagery, but it doesn't hurt to hope for something better, right?
link: "A Fence With More Beauty, Fewer Barbs" by William Hamilton, in the New York Times

a new new media?

Markos Moulitsas ZĂșniga (the "Kos" in Daily Kos) has a brief piece in the Nation in which he suggests that there is a paradigm shift currently underway that threatens the dominance of traditional media. The rise of blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc. truly offers a new empowerment to individuals, says Moulitsas, and the true potential for progress lies in our ability to master these new communication tools and translate broadcast power into political power. Yes, we've heard it all before -- about how the Internet will usher in a new age of democracy, the ultimate forum of free expression, etc. etc. But one wonders: maybe Moulitsas's observations are quite timely? Maybe now is finally the moment where the ability for individuals to deliver their own "great content" (his words) finally does threaten the hegemony of corporate Big Media:
We need to focus on making sure progressives learn to use the tools of this new media landscape. That's where the new-century media wars will be fought and won.
It's an election year, folks... and an important one. Time to take it up a notch.
link: "Use the Tools" in The Nation