11 July 2006

blog radar :: 11 july

I've been traveling over on the left coast the past few weeks, enjoying the much more pleasant weather that seems to grace that side of the country during the summer months... hence my recent lack of posts. Some interesting tidbits that have come across my screen while on the road:
  • "A Heart of Darkness in the City of Light." Last Sunday's Times had a surprisingly scathing article (and much welcome relief from Nicolai's ridiculous, adulatory articles) by Michael Kimmelman on Jean Nouvel's new Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. The usual postcolonial critiques stand up remarkably well in the context of Chirac's France and the suburban uprisings last fall. I was especially impressed by Kimmelman's grasp of both the aesthetic and political implications of the architecture -- and how they operate hand-in-hand. On a simpler note: does anyone find this building just plain ugly?
  • Archizoo. I've been enjoying this relatively new blog for its thoughtful musings... most notable was a post on the contemporary aesthetic implications of classical of symmetry, in the context of the headquarters of SWIFT, the banking firm responsible for handing over personal information to the federal government. This raises several crucial questions (which are asked constantly on these pages) on the politics of form and the responsibility (culpability?) of the architect. [Also check out another cool post on "Tourist Meccas" that links to some incredible imagery on Polar Inertia . And another one on the architecture of space. Literally.]
  • Toyota Prefab. Via Inhabitat, some interesting facts about Toyota's recent ventures into housing production. Although it's only happening in Japan (so far) and although the design quality is medicore (so far), it's a promising step in the right direction...
  • Torture taxi mapping. From we make money not art, a provocative project of cognitively mapping the unbelievable practice of "rendition" that our government employs in order to escape accountability for human rights abuses in the "war on terror."
  • Bell Labs to go. Via Archinect, word of the impending doom for one of Eero Saarinen's landmark projects from the late '50s. It's interesting how this story hasn't received much coverage -- perhaps it's due to the poor state of affairs at the lab's parent Lucent (a spinoff of the old AT&T). Some may be upset about the destruction of such a productive hotbed of technological innovation (birthplace of cellular telephony, among other things), but what about the architecture itself? Maybe its demolition will give a much-needed jumpstart to the modern preservation movement (the preservation of Modernist buildings, that is). On an unrelated note, it would be interesting to see how the fate of this particular building fits into Kazys Varnelis's long and fascinating tale (as told at the Philip Johnson Yale conference in February) of AT&T's centrifugal disintegration as it relates to the corporation's architectural ventures. Another day...
  • New Orleans commentary . The latest from our friends at Architecture and Morality is a thoughtful reflection on two recent design initiatives regarding post-Katrina New Orleans: the Architectural Record housing competitions, and the superstar-packed exhibition in the Netherlands organized by Reed Kroloff. While I agree with the points about the neglect of community involvement and the tendency to fall back on less-than-successful historical models, I think Corbusier's critique fails to acknowledge the importance of imagination and -- indeed -- fantasy in the process of rebuilding New Orleans. The quick dismissal of the (what I assume to be) intentionally utopian schemes of UN Studio, MVRDV, and the "floating cube" citation-winner of the low-density housing competition represents a lack of commitment to the notion of imagining a different (and better) future for the city. Of course these schemes -- the artificial mountain, the monstrous ziggurat, the floating housing -- are not intended to be understood as literal remedies. They are provocative musings, meant to spark new ideas about how to address the survival of this impossible city. If we as architects can't even do that, then what hope is there?

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