Category Archives: architecture

Documenting the Rise of Toronto

Image Credit: CityLab

Arthur Goss’s career began at age 11, working for the city government to support his family after his father died. It was the 1890s and Toronto, Ontario was beginning to expand and enter the period that saw government public works projects bringing urban areas out of the Industrial era and into more sanitary, livable conditions.

Around this same time, city officials began to understand the documenting prowess that photography yielded. Thus Goss, whose skill with a camera was awarded when he was as young as 15, came to be the first official photographer for the city in 1911. He recorded new roads, sewers, transit lines and bridges as Toronto swelled.

His career ended with his death in 1940, at which point he had produced 35,000 images for the city, each negative of which was labelled and filed away for future reference. Today, they are housed at the City of Toronto Archives.

Read the full article chronicling Goss’s prolific career at CityLab/Life.

Source: CityLab

Is It Real or Rendered?

Image Credit: Sotheby’s via Places Journal

As discussions of representation in design schools recognize our current collective shift into the postdigital era, Susan Piedmont-Palladino writes a pertinent article in Places Journal investigating our ever-changing relationship to images and representations of reality.

A professor of architecture at Virginia Tech, Piedmont-Palladino begins with a quote from writer Susan Sontag that emphasizes the acute importance of our ability to discern images:

” ‘A fake painting (one whose attribution is false) falsifies the history of art. A fake photograph (one which was been retouched or tampered with, or whose caption is false) falsifies reality.‘ ”

Piedmont-Palladino goes on to note that design renderings often depict an overlap between real and imagined, but that there are implications for design when architects or others choose to ignore certain realities beyond the point of making beautiful drawings. Not addressing issues of universal access during the design process, for example, can lead to exclusion and failure to meet building codes.

Head over to Places Journal for the full article.

Source: Places Journal

Works of an Architect of the State

Not all architects enjoy the quiet, unfashionable life of a government employee, but Alfred Eichler, a state architect for California from 1925-1963, had a prolific career. His works encompass a broad range of programs necessitated by American westward expansion and the rise of Depression-era societal needs. He designed and conceptualized state-sponsored building projects, from prisons and state hospitals, to educational facilities and more during his tenure.

His many paintings, concept sketches and renderings are on record at the California State Archives, but can also be accessed through the Google Arts & Culture platform: a browsable selection of museum exhibitions, photography collections, masters paintings and other curated works from around the world.

Source: Google Arts & Culture

The Great Wall of China in the Fog

Image Credit: Andres Gallardo Albajar via Colossal

It seems that half the motivation for people to travel is to capture the exact photo of a place or a building that everyone else has taken. The most photographed gargoyle is one example, or that Leaning Tower of Pisa photo we can all readily picture in our minds. It’s no surprise, then, that when the Spanish photographer Andes Gallardo Albajar visited the Great Wall of China, he expected to capture one of the seven wonders of the world with a bunch of tourists milling about.

Instead, Albajar found the Great Wall overrun not with people but with fog. As a result, he was able to shoot stunning, people-free images of the Wall in a ghostly blanket. Incidentally, the fog also obscured much of the surrounding landscape, so the Wall is eerily portrayed devoid of its contextualizing topography.

You can find more images of the Great Wall of China and its environs in the VRC’s Online Image Collection here.

Source: Colossal

Zaha Hadid Architects Exposes Gender Pay Gap

Photo Credit: Dezeen

A change in the law in the UK requires architecture firms to reveal gender pay gaps in staff salaries. Zaha Hadid Architects, now lead by Patrik Schumacher, shows that women are paid 19.6 percent less than men. The figure was calculated by comparing the median salaries of the men in the firm and the median salaries of the women. The firm claims that this disparity is caused by having more men in higher paid senior positions.

Architects that employ 250 people are required to publish salary cap figures each year and Dezeen has created a gender pay cap calculator for firms to use that are not required to make the figures public as part of an initiative to expose the gender pay gap in architecture firms.

Source: Dezeen

New York School of Interior Design Debuts New Online Catalog

Taken from the NYSID online archive, the page of Vogue in 1953 features an article on Major Tom Lee, who had an apprenticeship at “R.H. Macy of New York” before handling the display of a Christmas show at Rockefeller Center and an interwoven display at the New York World Fair.

The New York School of Interior Design recently expanded their online database to include a finding tool for users to search through their centennial collection. The “Archives & Special Collections” online archives catalog  allows users to identify the material they wish to consult before setting up an appointment to see the collection in person. The historic archive is composed of decades-old photographs, architectural sketches, news articles and memorabilia that date back to the early 1900s. The school first launched their image collection back in 2013, in expectation of the centennial debut of the archive; finally, it has arrived.

The purpose of creating the NYSID Institutional Archives was to document the history and evolution of the interior design profession. Similarly, Interior Design Special Collections material showcases the interior design work of designers, design firms and publications over the years. The stories these photos capture range from local historic preservation to hospitality projects.

Because the school was founded in 1916, the institution has access to photos that document not only the historical value of interior design but also related to the disciplines of business, fashion, urban studies, and anthropology. The New York School of Design special collections are open to the public by appointment.

Sources: The New York School of Interior Design

The Narrative of New York’s Police Architecture

Image Credit: Kris Graves.

Photographer Kris Graves has documented all of New York City’s 77 police precinct buildings. The architectural styles used evolved over the years, reflecting trends in architectural design as well as the police force’s evolving needs. During the 19th century, most precincts were built in the Romanesque or Classical Revival styles, By the 1960s, the buildings were largely un-ornamented.

Now, New York City’s police force is considering how their precinct buildings’ architecture impacts their relation to the community. While Brutalism may have its merits in the history of design and architecture, there is little doubt that a monolithic concrete building may fail to appear like anything other than a fortress. In a time when the tension between police and the communities they aim to serve has perhaps never been higher, precincts hope to convey an openness through the design of their buildings. The most recent proposals feature interior public spaces to allow community meetings and engagement.

This documentation was undertaken as part of an ongoing examination by Urban Omnibus and the Architectural League of New York entitled The Location of Justice. The project seeks to examine “the pervasive and often overlooked infrastructure of criminal justice in New York and the spaces that could serve a more just city.”

Source: Urban Omnibus

An Untold Story of American Public Housing

In 2011, Ben Austen—a journalist working for Harper’s Magazine—found himself watching the demolition of one of Cabrini-Green’s towering buildings. Beyond the building’s physical mass, he viewed the complex as a looming monolith that represented the story of public housing and its occupants not just in Chicago but elsewhere.

In an interview with CityLab, Austen points out that many of the arguments for the destruction of public housing projects like Cabrini-Green, and the infamous Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis, echoed the arguments made in favor of their construction in the first place: to create safer, better accommodations. He argues that the failings of these projects gets disproportionally blamed on the architecture when in fact these large public housing complexes were an improvement over what they replaced. Since these public housing complexes have been demolished, poverty is less centralized and, Austen suggests, less visible but no less urgent. Read more about lessons learned and stories told in his book High-Risers: Cabrini-Green and the Fate of American Public Housing.

Source: Citylab and Chicago Tribune.

3D Printed Houses Address Homelessness

Photo Credit: ICON and New Story

ICON, an Austin-based construction company, and New Story, a housing non-profit based in San Francisco, have collaborated on developing a 3D printer that builds move-in-ready houses in under 24 hours for just 4,000 USD. The proof-of-concept home was presented at the 2018 SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas. The home has a curved porch, living room, bedroom and bathroom. By 2019, these innovative, highly efficient and economical homes will be used to create the first 3D printed neighborhood in El Salvador, a region hard-pressed for shelter.

The homes are built with a 3D printer called the Vulcan that is set on tracks on an axis, allowing for an unlimited print area. The majority of the home is printed with Portland cement.

Source: Archdaily

Building in Downtown Austin Scheduled to Implode

Photo credit: James Rambin.

The implosion of the Ashbel Smith Hall building will interrupt the mellow, Sunday-morning mood this weekend in downtown Austin. Traffic near Lavaca and Sixth Street is expected to be more congested than usual due to the demolition occurring in the early morning hours. Typically, demolitions provoke protest from citizens who are sentimentally attached to the building, but no one seems too upset about the leveling of Ashbel Smith Hall.

“We don’t always need to clutch our pearls when something old downtown comes up for demolition,” wrote James Rambin, author of an online realty blog. Rambin compared the building to a toaster, deriding its boxy shape and two small roof vents poking out the top.

Once used by The University of Texas as office space after being built in the 1970s, the building’s Brutalist architecture juts out among a skyline of shiny, new skyscrapers. The City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission provided a dismal assessment of the structure’s contribution to the life of the city:

“The building does not appear to possess architectural distinction. […] The building does not possess a unique location, physical characteristic, or significant feature that contributes to the character, image, or cultural identity of the city, the neighborhood, or a particular demographic group. […] The property is not a significant natural or designed landscape with artistic, aesthetic, cultural, or historical value to the city.” —City of Austin Historic Landmark Commission, September 25, 2017

The building must be imploded to mitigate the negative effects of demolition on the surrounding area and to speed up the process. After being demolished, developer Trammell Crow plans to build a 37-story tower with office, restaurant and retail uses, costing $1.6 million per year to rent.

Sources: Austin American Statesman, Towers, AustinTexas.gov

Architectural Effects of a Divide

09 Image credit: Jürgen Ritter

The Berlin Wall stood for 28 years, bifurcating the city into West and East Berlin respectively. Demolition of the wall began in 1990, and 28 years later, an exhibition at the Venice Biennale of Architecture 2018 will be exploring the question of what happens to the built environment when physical divides are torn down. The exhibition, titled “Unbuilding Walls,” will showcase 28 examples—one example for each year the Berlin Wall divided Berlin—of historic and contemporary walls, barriers and fences and their effect on or reaction to the landscape.

In 2012, astronaut André Kuipers documented one example of the wall’s divide still evident from space: the color difference in the street lights of and west and east sides of the city is clearly perceptible.

Source: Topos Magazine and the Washington Post.

Vacant Lots to Garden Plots: Restoring Urban Biodiversity

Many homes in Baltimore are being demolished due to high vacancy rates. Ecologist Chris Swann uses the empty lots to plant wildflowers. Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky, Associated Press.

As urbanism pervades the world, open spaces and the biodiversity they provide are beginning to dwindle. Curtailing sprawl is often touted as an answer to protecting biodiversity outside the city, but Chris Swann wants to also protect the biodiversity within the existing urban context.

Swann—an ecologist and professor from the University of Maryland—studies what plant species work best for ecosystems in urban spaces and, in a recent experiment, he sprinkled wildflower seeds across vacant lots. He is specifically looking for plants that can survive in the soil of recently demolished homes in Baltimore, where vacancies are on the rise. Though the lots are only “temporary prairies” because they will likely be redeveloped soon, Swann hopes the boost in plant life will reduce runoff and attract other organisms. Swann’s project is uniquely scientific; not many have studied what works to restore balance to a city’s ecosystem. Other cities have begun utilizing small plots of land for gardens or mini parks, despite the lack of research surrounding what they should be planting.

Yet, all green spaces are not created equal. Providing more green space in an urban landscape can not only pose an ecological challenge but also economic and equity challenges. Property values increase near parks and open spaces, oftentimes inducing a development surge that brings a risk of gentrification. Laying the groundwork for a fully furnished park is a costly endeavor for the city; the City of Minneapolis cited the cost of a park as $481,333. In contrast, one of the cheapest types of wildflower seeds costs just $231 per acre.

Swann’s experiment to seed wildflowers in vacant lots will not only help answer the question, “what do we plant” but also “can we afford it?” If wildflowers grow well in infertile soil, they could become a means for urban biodiversity that is more economical and thus, more equitable. Creating prairies in vacant lots could prove a small step towards creating a better habitat for all creatures residing in urban contexts.

Sources: CityLab, City of Minneapolis, Holland Wildflower Farm, University of California at Berkeley