Whenever I walk from to Sunrise Mart for lunch, I make it a point to avoid the construction site on Spring and Varick.

After all, anything by Donald Trump and Bovis Lend Lease can’t be good. In terms of quality or safety, New York’s construction is little better than Los Angeles’s, even if the buildings appear to be made of real materials such as steel instead of wood.

So, it is that a scant three days after I told my friend Mimi that we were not, under any circumstances, walking under the scaffolding at that site she sends me this item: Worker is Killed in Accident at Trump Soho Tower. Another outrage from the man who put "You’re Fired!" on national television. Of course the global élite that will inhabit this structure one day will be to uninformed to notice, but just think of the quality of construction in the building. Nice place to live.  


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how to misuse technology / fall of a giant

I noted two interesting stories about technology gone awry in the last week.

The first is about the misuse of GPS technology in Europe. Looking for shortcuts, truck drivers use GPS devices with maps that don’t adequately show just how small streets in older towns really are. The results are dangerous conditions and traffic jams as giant trucks wander into historic villages. See here.

The second explores the consequences of mobile phone use in automobiles and how a study now prove it makes traffic worse, which of course creates a feedback loop. See here.

Derek Lindner points out that Levitt & Sons is bankrupt. See here and the IHT.

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the coming storm in dubai

On the way back from Limerick, I did two things Dubai-related. First, I wound up helping a fellow returning from Dubai find his way around the JFK AirTrain. We talked a bit about that fabled city (cue descriptions of long-vanished cities from  One Thousand and One Nights) and he mentioned that 3/4 of the world’s cranes were now there. Later, on the way back to Montclair, I picked up a copy of the Wall Street Journal’s business section that someone had left behind on the New Jersey Transit train. More on Dubai. It seems that the massive construction is coming just as the city-state’s flow of oil has started to dwindle. Moreover, in comparison to the other states around it, at least, Dubai is undertaking some fairly massive debt financing. The article, together with a debate about it at the skyscraperpage’s forum.

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southern california bubble apocalypse?

Alas, it’s been a while since I’ve updated. Between repeated trips to the GSD to lecture, a difficult and still incomplete server transition, and final reviews at Columbia, time has been scarce. Moreover, I’ve been waiting on word on some projects that I’ll be running from this blog, working behind the scenes on NetLab material (the launch of our office is just around the corner!), and waiting for Blue Monday to appear en masse in the states (try later this month).

And, as happens when I don’t post for a while, the opening post seems all-too-important. The stakes rise. I begin to ponder site redesigns and it is that time of year again…these usually happen in May (hint: reader feedback wanted).

Then smaller topics don’t get posted. And all the while you, dear reader, begin to wonder if I have passed on, or if I’ve finally tired of the longest running individual blog in architecture, or if you should just hit the delete key in your favorite RSS reader…

So, how better to start than with a heady dose of doom and gloom?

There’s little question that the real estate bubble is starting to come apart across the US. It’s a slow implosion rather than a fast pop, but things are starting to look grim in the overpriced landscape of the coasts. If under postmodernism, the most autonomous processes of architecture were colonized by capital (translation: the drawing became capitalized in shows like Houses for Sale and galleries like Max Protetch) then under early network culture the built domain has been thoroughly removed from reality by pricing that bore no relationship to reality and ever more irreal financial instruments (you didn’t get that 5 year adjustable interest-only balloon-payment mortgage with 0% down, did you?).

But even the most advanced delusions ultimately have to come down to earth.This is something I’ve been pointing out for a while, but here is more grist for the mill. The Orange Country Register reports that job growth is slowing and suggests that the declining real estate is responsible for this. 16.7 percent of OC jobs are in real estate, construction, or related financial fields. The construction industry has ballooned by 148% in the 14 years since the bottom of the last cycle. The statistics in Los Angeles are little different.

Construction is the new factory job, highly paid work for unskilled labor. Illegal immigrants and cash workers are far more common than in other industries (in Southern California, Home Depot has begun to institutionalize the lines of day laborers in front of their centers).

How much of the much vaunted decline in crime has to do with the fact that you can get great pay and a good lifestyle legally in construction as opposed to risking your neck in crime? What will happen to the legions of unskilled laborers, many of whom have no papers and no command of English, as the bubble continues its downward trend? As these jobs go bust, crime will rise as it always does. As family bread-winners who have been employed in an industry subject to cyclical downturns find themselves without a job—and in many cases face foreclosure of loans given under criminal terms—their reaction will be, understandably, not pretty.

On of my current projects is a book on Los Angeles during the last decade. Even as it tells the improbable story of the recovery of Southern California, by the time it is published, the region’s economic landscape will likely resemble Mike Davis’s City of Quartz once again. If you look at the demographics for the area since 1940 (!), each decade shows Southern California being divided more and more into poor regions worthy of the developing world (note well: the amount of terrain devoted to these grows every decade) and insanely rich mountain and coastal communities. The City of Quartz may be back, with a vengeance.


Another option, of course, is that the immigrant workers just head home, as the Washington Post suggests. But that would pose problems of its own for the poorer inhabitants of those communities who can’t afford to go home and all the businesses dependent on these workers.

taiwanese pod city from hell

Looking something like a Roger Dean album cover, somewhere off the northern coast of Taiwain a pod city lies in ruin. Supposedly construction accidents at San Zhi generated fears that the site was haunted leading to the failure and eventual abandonment of the vacation complex.

Visit electro^plankton for more, then drop by flickr for another photoset.

sanzhi 05


sanzhi 04



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The Next Googleplex

Is exurbia the next frontier for massive digital infrastructure projects? The New York Times explores the construction of the Googleplex on a remote site in The Dalles, Oregon, on the banks of the Columbia River. Google paid $1.3 million for 30 acres! They’re going to be paying a lot more to hook up fiber to the grid out there. Is this a response to the concentrated nature of telecoms in cities? Of course, if you have sufficient means, any place can be made a command and control center for the global city. Silicon Valley was once farmland as well.

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urban konsumterror

Two years ago AUDC put together a project on Urban Konsumterror for our friend Paulette Singley’s book Eating Architecture.

Things Magazine picked it up earlier this month, then Anne Galloway blogged it at Space and Culture, and Jo-Anne Greene at Networked Performance posted it too. So, I thought I’d post it as well. If you haven’t seen it, enjoy.

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The Skyscraper Boom?

Almost every week, there is something worth linking to from the Economist. Last week’s issue contains a lengthy article on the Skyscraper Boom. But is this “boom” the Owl of Minerva spreading her wings at dusk? In my paper, Philip Johnson’s Empire, which I am finishing up for a forthcoming book based on the earlier conference, I ponder the question of the AT&T building, which is the last iconic skyscraper.

Top firms no longer need to aggrandize themselves with height. Instead, companies like Microsoft, Home Depot, and Wal-Mart shun corporate visibility in favor of anonymity, occupying faceless office complexes deep in postsuburbia, reflecting the banality of the products they market and the landscape that they have given rise to. To be sure, Donald Trump calls press conferences periodically to propose another (usually fictitious) tower, and builders from Shanghai to Dubai work like mad to catch up to the West as the last gasp of delirious verticality pushes westward around the globe. But the skyscraper no longer signals the kind of iconic importance it once did. Already in 1971, Archizoom founder Andrea Branzi observed that skyscrapers are an artifact of the past, products of a superceded form of capitalism and concluded that the day would soon come when they would no longer be built. In Branzi’s analysis, the concentrated metropolis was the product of a phase of Capital’s accumulation, a “natural” record of its accretion. The skyline, in turn, made visible that accretion, demonstrating the force of capital to the world. But with the city thoroughly connected by telematics and with capital having thoroughly colonized the world, Branzi concluded, the city has become a mere condition, the skyline superfluous, urbanity existing not as a physical entity but as programming or organization. (Andrea Branzi, “The Fluid Metropolis,” Andrea Branzi. The Complete Works. (New York: Rizzoli, 1992), 50-51.)

Cities will continue to attract corporations and individuals eager for the kind of dense variety of cultural life that only cities can offer, but they have ceased to be places in which corporations need to represent themselves architecturally, at least not in the manner by which Johnson’s building represented AT&T. If the city was once the foremost spectacle of production, it is now the foremost spectacle of consumption.

In other words, skyscrapers may be built, but they have lost their historical moment. Regardless of the boom, so carefully documented by the Economist, these structures lack the ability to compel us, something that the interminably boring (albeit at times horrifying) Freedom Tower process has demonstrated. Business has little need for innovative architecture. Instead, today’s large urban buildings of quality are generally temples of civic aggrandizement, structures such as the Seattle Public Library or the Guggenheim Bilbao (and the myriad other museums built since). But here too, we should tread with caution, for the discipline’s delirious embrace of Bruno Taut’s old idea of the Stadtkrone is not without its dangers. See Cathedrals of the Culture Industry and follow it up with a viewing of Fitzcarraldo.

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