Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Should Architecture Shock Us?

(Image from The View From Rome)
Should architecture shock us?


No, no, no.

Over at The View From Rome, the great Steven Semes explores the work of Daniel Liebeskind as it relates to historic architecture. It is a great post and I recommend that you check it out. Liebeskind has made a name for himself by, among other things, creating jarring, jagged, harsh Modernist additions to historic structures. Semes handily dismantles this approach.

However, this discussion brings up a larger issue in my mind. He quotes Liebeskind as saying " We must create a new context and puncture past beauty with raw, powerful contemporary architecture—buildings that shock and amaze..." 

Monday, March 25, 2013

City Manager as Placemaker?

Mountain View, California (Photo by Bruce Liedstrand)
Bruce Liedstrand is one of the San Francisco Bay Area's great urbanists. In the early 2000s he was coaxed out of retirement by Redwood City, and he served as the Community Development Director during a critical period of time. His tenure with that city (from 2001 to 2006) put in motion a dramatic renaissance, including many streetscape improvements, the creation of a cinema which served as an important catalyst to revitalization, Courthouse Square, and the Downtown Precise Plan. Bruce was kind enough to recruit me to help him in these efforts and it has been a great experience. 

Prior to that, though, he was City Manager of Mountain View, California. You may know Mountain View as the home to Google and other tech titans. Under his leadership many great improvements were made to that city, including the transformation of Castro Street, their main downtown street, into a highly successful shopping and dining destination.

In an interview at the Urbanism Speakeasy, Bruce shares some of his stories from the Mountain View days. This interview shows how important competent municipal management is to placemaking. Listen to the interview here. The top of the page has text excerpts from the discussion, but I recommend that you scroll to the bottom and listen to the whole thing. Good stuff.

Monday, March 18, 2013

In Defense of (Some) Skyscrapers

(Photo by Bruce Liedstrand)

I love all kinds of cities, so picking a favorite is difficult. But if I had to, I would probably pick Paris. My time there has been minimal, but it was enough to infect me with a deep admiration if the place. Paris is eminently enjoyable and delightful, and in this era of megacities it is an excellent model for places that strive to be sustainable, successful, and happy. 

Paris is admired across the globe for its architectural beauty, its civic grandeur, its vibrant range of shopping, culture, and entertainment, and its walkability. Another defining characteristics of central Paris, at least for now, is a conspicuous lack of skyscrapers. For a modern city of its large population and economic output this is a rare feature in the world. Is the a case of cause and effect, or correlation without causation?