16 October 2006

40 bond update

I got a chance over the weekend to snap a few photos of the rapidly-progressing 40 Bond project, an Ian Schrager residential development designed by those Swiss hot-shot duo Herzog and de Meuron. Although I do enjoy much of Herzog and de Meuron's formal research, material treatments, and patterning techniques, I tend to regard their buildings critically and almost categorically as nothing but over-dressed boxes. 40 Bond fits perfectly into this genre: the billboards claim that "Herzog and de Meuron radically reinvent the cast-iron building," when in fact the building is nothing other than a "cast-concrete" building, soon to be covered in fancy glass tubing. Material substitution does not suffice for reinvention. And furthermore, by ignorantly invoking the imagery of New York's cast-iron architectural legacy for such a blatant cause of gentrification, H&dM neglects the typology's rich social history. The same can be said for the bling-bling, one-liner appropriation of graffiti imagery for the street-level facade. In the end, 40 Bond is nothing but another developer project, albeit one with a larger budget for ornamentation. And surely the ornamentation will be stunning and the details expertly executed -- but isn't it time for our most famous architects to take on more critical architectural pursuits?

frederic chaubin: socialist architectural eccentricities

[image: "Druzhba Holiday Center Hall" (Yalta, Ukraine, 1984)© Frederic Chaubin]

Via BLDGBLOG and PingMag : a short piece with some fantastic images of architectural relics of the Soviet regimes in countries like Georgia, Belarus, and Ukraine. This understudied genre is a continuing obsession of mine - and although I'm most familiar with and fond of the architecture of the Western Balkans (former Yugoslavia), these particular buildings are quite stunning. The images leave me wanting more. Send any tips, links, references, etc. my way...

link: Frederic Chaubin: Soviet SF Style from PingMag

03 October 2006

"a dark tale of globalization"

[images: New York Times]

I woke up this morning to read this article in the Times about a tanker named Probo Koala that recently dumped hundreds of tons of toxic waste in the suburbs of Abidjan, the capital of Ivory Coast. The tanker, leased by Trafigura, one of those vague multi-national corporations dealing with oil, minerals, and various front companies that disguise its questionable business practices, apparently had been turned away from various ports throughout Europe due to the extreme toxicity of its cargo. Trafigura was unwilling to pay the roughly $300,000 necessary to adequately dispose of the waste, and the company instead opted to dump it in Ivory Coast, where costs are much lower and fewer questions are asked. Now the Ivory Coast is crippled with a massive public health crisis (85,000 sick) and faced with growing political instability as the population demands some explanation for their misfortune (the prime minister has already resigned). Needless to say, this is already a volatile corner of Africa, where it often takes much less than a large-scale environmental and health crisis to spark conflict and unrest.

The story -- reported fantastically, by the way, by Times reporters Polgreen and Simons -- reminds me of Don DeLillo's book Underworld, his 1997 masterpiece that chronicles the Cold War through, among other things, the lens of the global waste industry. DeLillo's book is haunted by a recurring, almost sublime image of a super-tanker that perpetually travels from one global port to another, endlessly but unsuccessfully seeking to unload its cargo of the world's most toxic waste. The diagram of the recent travels of the Probo Koala contains no such sublime quality, but it eerily recalls the darkness of DeLillo's fiction, with the ship's trail literally rendering the devastating, grotesque dark side of globalization.

Both the provenance of the waste and the ownership of the tanker itself are unclear. With a sentence that could be lifted directly from DeLillo, the article matter-of-factly explains the waste's origins: "It came from a Greek-owned tanker flying a Panamanian flag and leased by the London branch of a Swiss trading corporation whose fiscal headquarters are in the Netherlands." What?

Clearly something is wrong with the paradigm of globalization as it exists today. Maybe people will start understanding this before it gets too late? Maybe the devastation in Ivory Coast will somehow have a positive long-term effect as it galvanizes global powers to right these terrible wrongs and mitigate the destructive tendencies of global capitalism?

link: "Global Sludge Ends in Tragedy for Ivory Coast" by Lydia Polgreen and Marlise Simons, in the New York Times

01 October 2006

on the fifty state strategy

We interrupt the standard stream of architectural commentary for one of our periodic political posts. I know some readers may not be interested, but you'll just have to deal: the next five weeks will play a crucial role as this country decides whether or not to renew a commitment to the stale status quo that has been in place for the past six years. The midterm elections are on November 7, and they represent a chance for the Democrats to take back at least one house of Congress, thereby sending a clear message that enough is enough, that the present conduct of government is no longer acceptable. Much talk has been made of the similarities between this year's political climate and that of 1994, when the Gingrich-led Republican insurgency captured both the House and the Senate. Notwithstanding these seemingly favorable prospects for Democrats, there are nonetheless important differences between the Republicans of 1994 and the Democrats of 2006, and a Democratic takeover is far from certain.
I just read Matt Bai's article in today's New York Times Magazine, which delves into the trials and tribulations of Howard Dean and his efforts to rebuild the Democratic Party. Read it. Let me know what you think. It seems obvious to me that Dean's fifty state strategy is the only way to reinvent the Democratic Party as an effective and potentially victorious political force. It's a long-term vision that is not incompatible with electoral success this November, contrary to the claims of Dean's critics within the party. Its strength lies in its rejection of the red state / blue state dichotomy and the appropriation of time-tested Republican techniques of widespread, local organization. It makes sense to learn from those who win elections, and after 2000, 2002, and 2004, it's time for a change. Sure, Dean may be a "flawed visionary" (Bai's words), but he's a visionary nonetheless.

link: "The Inside Agitator" by Matt Bai, in the New York Times Magazine