how the city works

Via archinect comes this New York Times article on how the United Parcel Service eliminates left-hand turns to save money by cutting on gas expenses and time on the road (here is another article on the topic). Compare it with the following Associated Press article from last year on the strange co-existence of parking tickets and delivery trucks.

The world of logistics is much more intricate than we may think. Understanding it better is crucial for the coming century of networked architecture and networked urbanism.

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little buildings


Most of you will know this already because you’re already reading Pasta and Vinegar every day (if not you should be). Nicolas Nova’s blog is a must read for any researcher of contemporary urbanism. I’m humbled by the amount of incredibly information that Nicolas gives me every day, evidence of his keen intelligence and … lack of children.

But, anyway… Nicolas recently posted an entry on "Evasion Urbaine," roughly "Urban Escapism," a project by artists Benoit Deseille and Benedetto Bufalino for the Lyon Light Festival. Now although I do wonder how these exotic fish are braving the not-too-warm weather of Lyon, this posting brought to mind how phone booths have virtually vanished from our lives, subject to the rise of the mobile phone. In poorer neighborhoods, they were seen as facilitating drug sales…and no doubt the anonymity of the device is problematic in our era of total surveillance.

Reading this, I realized that it has been years since I’ve seen a phone booth on the streets. As Forgotten NY shows, these little spaces have been disappearing for some time now. Nevertheless, they were deeply transformational, places in which one could become a superhero, early harbingers of the way we now disconnect from the world around us anywhere, anytime everyday, little places of momentary respite from the urban din.

If these little buildings are gone from our lives now, they lead us to ask if  architecture is as superfluous as the phone booth or if new analogs to the phone booth will spring up around us in this still-young century? 

phone booth aquarium by nicolas nova at flickr

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9/11 and the concorde

I watched the "Supersonic Dreams" episode of NOVA last night which recounted the history of the Concorde. I can’t say that the episode was among the best episodes of NOVA or even the best thing I’ve seen on the Concorde, but what struck me was that the Concorde was cancelled not so much because of the July 25, 2000 crash but rather because of 9/11. Apparently the loss of forty of its most reliable customers was enough to kill the SST. In a certain sense, this after-effect meant the end of real glamour in air travel and, to some degree, the end of supermodernism as an architectural strategy. 

This got me to thinking, what other very direct effects did 9/11 have? Obviously, there was personal tragedy, something I think of as I pass the 9/11 memorial on my way back home from the train at Watchung Plaza. But this had very real economic consequences. What other strange historical effects might it have had?    


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netlab network culture studio review tomorrow

The Network Architecture Lab for fall 2007 invites you to our review tomorrow, from 2 to 6 in room 114 of Avery Hall at Columbia University.  
This review is based on the model of the gallery. Students will display work in a variety of media—image, model, and text—but will present it primarily through brief videos that hopefully will be completed and uploaded to the Internet tonight. Videos willl also be shown alongside finished work in the review. Students will be available to discuss the work in the review. At 4.30 we will hold a round table discussion that we hope you can attend to talk about the trajectory of the work as a whole.  
Review brief below:
Since the Renaissance, architecture has responded to new sociocultural eras (the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, modernity, postmodernity) with utopian and dystopian schemes (ideal cities, Piranesi’s Carceri and Campo Marzio plan, Boullee’s visionary architecture, Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, Sant ‘Elia’s Città Nuova, Hugh Ferriss’s Metropolis of To-Morrow, Hilberseimer’s Metropolis, Archigram’s Walking City, Archizoom’s No-Stop-City, Rossi and Scolari’s drawings, Koolhaas’s Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture, City of the Captive Globe, Lebbeus Woods’s visions, and so on).  Such fantasies have not only served to advance the discipline, they are a means by which architecture can research, analyze, and investigate society.    
It is the Netlab’s contention that we are living in a new era defined by the network. During the last fifteen years, the Internet has joined us together and gone wireless; computing has become mobile while applications are increasingly network-based; the mobile phone has become the world’s most successful gadget; virtually any form of publication has become available to virtually everyone. But these technological changes are only part of a broader shift in society. If in Fordist modernity the individual was located in a hierarchical system and in post-Fordist post-Modernism the fragmented individual was in a system of flexible production and consumption, today we conceive of ourselves (and are conceived of) as networked dividuals, composed of a myriad of flows of people and things.  
By and large, architecture has failed to deliver visionary proposals for this moment. This studio hopes to remedy that situation. Students will respond to our contemporary situation by studying an aspect of network culture in depth and producing schemes based on an exacerbation of that condition that could be utopian, dystopian, or both utopian and dystopian.      


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new museum

Like everybody else in the New York art and architecture community, we went to see Sejima’s New Museum this weekend. I have never been to Japan (or Asia for that matter… hint to readers with lecture series… invite me!), but on my recent cross-country drive I had seen Sejima’s Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art so this was my second Sejima building in a month.

Urbanistically speaking, both museums seem to be calculated to produce the Bilbao-Effect. Toledo is a post-industrial Rust Belt city—glass was one of its major industries—with a declining population. Not far from the museum, I passed plenty of boarded-up buildings. The New Museum is in the Bowery, a couple of doors down from the Bowery Mission.

It’s hard to imagine the Glass Pavilion re-activating Toledo. On the evening that I visited, admission was free and there were only about twenty or thirty visitors there. The Pavilion is well done but certainly not exciting enough to warrant a trip to Toledo unless one was already driving down the I-80 from Chicago to the East. Nor does it appear to be part of a larger urban redevelopment. Here the Bilbao-Effect has run out of road. Will small cities continue to produce cultural buildings like this?

image of new museum 

In contrast, the New Museum is an intervention that, calculated or not, will put the Bowery past the tipping point toward gentrification. Goodbye CBGB’s, hello contemporary art. Chic boutiques and restaurants lurk just around the corner. 

But what to say about this condition? Barring some major economic change, it seems like Manhattan is becoming more and more a global playground of the senses. Situationism for the very rich: amazing food, the coolest stores, the best museums. What’s not too like? Well, maybe the fact that Manhattan is following Paris into becoming a "classic city," full of money but void of potential? If Donald Judd, George Maciunas, or Gordon Matta-Clark were 25 today, they wouldn’t live there.

What of the architecture? Where the Glass Pavilion is carefully refined in its details, the New Museum is rough, reflecting its surroundings. Sometimes, the roughness seems to slip past the architect’s control. A badly cracked concrete floor marred one of the galleries. The drywall didn’t always seemed finished well. But there were also missteps. The nosing on the stairs seemed off. You had a sense of pitching forward that was distinctly unwelcome. Don’t put soap on your hands prior to using the sinks in the bathrooms. The motion sensors on the sinks—always a bad idea—are inscrutable. If you’re lucky, the janitor will come in to show you how to do it (as he did for us).

It was a dark, cloudy day and the much-vaunted skylights did little for the art. In the galleries there is a deliberate move to return to the white cube. Certainly this is better than some of the attention-grabbing moves that architects have made recently, but the galleries were relatively uninteresting. Windows were few and far between and gave the viewer a feeling of complete disconnect from the environment.

The Unmonumental Show was timid. This didn’t seem like New Art to me but rather like a get-together of followers of Kienholz, Wasserman, and Beuys. The best works were in the lobby by Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries or in the basement, where Jeffrey Inaba and C-Lab (disclaimer: I share an office with C-Lab) did a wall graphic on philanthropy and Francis Alys put you in the position of being a dog encountering a pack of feral dogs. 

Those works were welcome and, no doubt, if the museum had catered to my tastes throughout, I might have felt very differently, but the dominance of the show by Unmonumental and my sense that Manhattan had finally met its gentrified end on the Bowery made me wonder just what new meant to us anymore.    

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the end of old networks

The New York Times seems to be carrying more interesting articles these days. Check out this one on the new competitors to network television emerging on the Internet. I’ve been watching a little network television this year, but only via on demand or dvr. The traditional model of the top-down, fixed-schedule network is as viable today as the analog over-the-air broadcasting that enabled it in the first place.

More, on a bunch of topics, later (perhaps Monday).

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