Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Is beauty in the environment, and in the textscape, "mine" or "ours"?

I don't really want to wade into the never-ending British battle of the architectural traditionalists vs. the modernists. British philosopher of aesthetics, Roger Scuton, published in The American this month his latest volley in defining architectural beauty / quality as a community endeavor (consciously and unconsciously): "When it comes to beauty, our view of its status is radically affected by whether we see it as a form of self-expression, or as a form of self-denial. If we see it in this second way, then the assumption that it is merely subjective begins to fall away. Instead beauty begins to take on another character, as one of the instruments in our consensus-building strategies, one of the values through which we construct and belong to a shared and mutually consoling world." While I'm a dedicated fan of the international starchitects, Scuton does have a point (in fact, I live in a Brooklyn, New York brownstone neighborhood that has a historic preservation district designed specifically to limit inidividual design choices and to create an aesthetic of the community, not of individual buildings in no relation to their neighbors). I was particularly struck with this, because of the feature in The New York Times today about The Municipal Arts Society struggling to assert a rewnewed relevance. It seems to me that one very important role for The Municipal Arts Society would be to manage the commuity dialogue designing a "shared and mutually consoling world." We all have our opinions about The Highline and Atlantic Yards (etc.), but each project and controversy has no city-wide context. Isn't that what The Municipal Arts Society in New York City should be for?

James Corner and Field Operations have a vision for downtown Cleveland

Nice piece in Fast Company about the first design concepts developed by Field Operations for Cleveland, Ohio municipal organizations.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Social media -- Snake oil?

I've had multiple Facebook friends send me this Stephen Baker article. (Yeah, they got to it before I did.) And I've been seeing ReTweets all day. Must've touched a nerve.

Google, books, the law, the French . . . What organization, public or private will control the patrimony -- on what terms? Think about it.

I confess. I haven't walked into a physical-building Library in many years. And I have no quarrel at all with Google. Nor any self-interest in supporting Google's position. And I want every book ever written or published accessible to me online -- either free or for some reasonable cost. Robert Darnton's article in NYRB helps us understand how it may be worked out for people like me (and most people who want the intellectual patrimony of Western Culture accessible to me and my children as easily and cheaply as possible). This issue is evolving in the courts, USA and internationally. The long term results are so important. And the the media and public understanding don't seem to have a clue about this critical issue. Bottom line: Where/How will your grandchildren get information about the present and the past? Who/What organization will control that access?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Urban sustainability

I came across two interesting, contrasting stories today about urban sustainability. A post by David Owen on the Project Syndicate blog demonstrates (the sometimes counterintuitive) relative sustainability dimensions of life in Manhattan. And an Associated Press filing today by Ramit Plushnick-Masti provides a view of how one of the Rust Belt's economic urban victims, (Vandergrift, Pennsylvania) but with a noble past, is working to revive itself through sustainability and re-capturing its Olmsted heritage.