Entries in urban design (7)

Skip Connecticut

With members living in Brooklyn and Rhode Island, we (selfishly) appreciate the idea of a direct rail connection between Providence and Brooklyn via Long Island, as Nick Caruso suggests in an article posted on the BSA site:

image courtesy Ryan Sullivan and Nick Caruso

We agree with a lot of his other points too.  Why thread high speed rail through a state like connecticut with has spurned regional rail development and transit-oriented growth?  Rhode and Long Island have demonstrated willingness to capitalize on the potential of rail--lets support these areas.

De-Coupling: Opening Pamphlet 30

William Whyte would be proud that talents like Mason White and Lola Sheppard of Lateral Office are taking on the largest interconnected problems in our discipline. In many respects Coupling defines an architectural vision (or one architectural vision) of the 21st century, merging an expanded view of the architects role with the increased scope and opportunities that new data provides design practice.

The forward by Waldheim and the article by Easterling provide Coupling's theoretical parenthood. Waldheim describes an engaging shifted development of architecture, one that opens the minutia of design to landscapes of data, systems, and an expanded discipline. Easterlings ever thoughtful explanation of the business worlds merging of the built environment into the "parameters of global urbanism," codifies the methods for Coupling.

The book itself is an exploration of architecture and its largest and smallest scale. Lateral Office seems at times too facile with the shift. I'm left asking about community. Their last project, a redevelopment of a runway in Iceland, provides the opportunities for their next steps. The porous 'bloc typologies' are undercooked and underexplained. This however would be where I see opportunities to balance Lateral's notion of expanding our discipline with the classical problem of largescale architecture; housing. 

Coupling has four precise essays that focus what at times has been an unfocused blurry argument. It has a number of architecturally expceptional, graphically exciting and well researched design proposals that are dramatically linked to the most contemporary thinking.

In a time when Daniel Burnham's addage of "make no small plans" seems almost naive in the wake of economic collapse, Coupling argues that going big or going home is the only way forward in a new landscape of information driven architecture.

Night and Day

What do you get when you combine a Mark Fuller water sculpture, a Diller Scofidio + Renfro bosque, and classes of young talented Julliard students all within the same three square blocks?  A re-imagined Lincoln Center, where the drama of an evening performance moves outdoors during the day.

For over 45 years, New York’s Lincoln Center has been a central cultural attraction - at night.  With the exception of afternoon matinée performances, the dozen resident organizations, including the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera, open their doors after the sun has set, typically for an 8pm curtain.  Fortunately, a series of small public interventions are creating a new daytime face for the institution, and many more are on their way.

Water Fountain (photo credit: Spain)

 Mark Fuller and his company Wet have redesigned the signature water feature.  Fuller, known for progressive and wild water projects, most recently five sculptures at CityCenter in Las Vegas, has created a classic fountain with lots of water power for Lincoln Center’s central plaza.  The new circular bench is positioned well above the water line, and its seemingly invisible structure heightens the drama of sitting over water. 

Elevated Bosque (photo credit: Spain)

Similar to the calming and powerful nature of the water feature, Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s elevated bosque creates a green sanctuary amid the stark public space.  Situated five steps above the plaza level, the hyper-designed platform, complete with built-in bench, footrest and upper tier of seating, conceals a slight shift in grade and creates a cool haven for relaxation and people watching.  On a recent Friday afternoon, these seats were perfectly positioned for a view of Julliard students practicing their slow-motion leap-frog and mock pizza deliveries. 

The fountain and bosque are just two of the many public interventions commissioned by the institution.  With a restaurant and infoscape yet to be completed, the face of Lincoln Center seems poised and on track towards the positive lift it is looking for.

Stay tuned for The Functionality’s complete review of Lincoln Center’s new public spaces and look for us there at lunchtime when the weather is perfect.

East London's Green Grid

On behalf of the Mayor, Design for London pushes forward the policies and objectives to promote a compact city with an enhanced network of public spaces.  It is widespread knowledge among DfL that areas in close proximity to public green space have less instances of social and economic deprivation, health disparities, and educational achievement shortfalls.  Recently, in an effort to holistically revitalize East London, DfL—in partnership with CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) and other organizations—has developed the East London Green Grid, one of the first spatial frameworks of its kind to use a landscape and human-centred green infrastructure approach.  According to CABE:

The framework considers new green spaces as well as enhancements to existing green spaces. A strong emphasis is placed on green space connectivity, most notably by using strategic green corridors to link town centres and transport nodes to major employment and residential sites. The role of river corridors, their adjacent environment and links to the green belt are central to the project’s delivery.


East London Green Grid delivery plan. Copyright Nathan Jones / Levent Kerimol, Design for London

What is interesting in DfL's description of their work is their consistent reference to "good" design and their ability to fix what may need improvement based on their knowledge of what works best.  They insist on the highest quality of design for all projects within the city.  In an effort to make projects happen, they "take a flexible pragmatic approach, working with an entrepreneurial spirit and jumping at opportunities."  

This type of attitude at the govrnernmental level is refreshing to those who are living in the United States, where, typically, a new or innovative project has to go through a variance process or a temporary experimental treatment process in order to gain approval.  Of course "good" design is subjective; however, DfL, through working in partnership with a wide variety of architects and engineers, makes the case for improving places by promoting sustainable growth and targeting investment to areas where it can deliver clear economic benefits.


The Functionality is lucky to have Sophia Al-Maria, an accomplished artist having studied at Goldsmiths in London, sending us another feature from the desert.


“It’s very Arab the way this city erects buildings and then rips them down, the towers are like tents.” – Dr. Fay Gotting author of Qatari medical history, Healing Hands of Qatar  

Here in the Arabian Gulf the present is a non-time, a portal to and from the future tense – a blinking  cursor on a screen of sand and steel grids. 

The consensus seems to be that if we are going to move forward we need to delete our past and conversely if we attempt to preserve our history and tend our high-maintenance religious beliefs, our imagined futures begin to fade from the horizon.

Type “Doha” into your Google and more renderings of never-to-be-built dream-scrapers than images of the actual city que-up.  One of the first hits is this Syd Mead (of Tron and Blade Runner fame) imagining of a Doha as patrolled by nurse-shark blimps.  Few contemporary features of Doha persevere in Mead’s vision, nothing is left of my home but a single icon on a manmade outcropping barely older than me: the Sheraton. 


It was 1979 when an unmanned alien ship landed in Doha, a dusty town about the size of Mos Eisley, the spaceport on Tatooine (a planet in Tunisia).

Image from 1982 industry-publication: “Construction of the Sheraton: Doha, Qatar”.

Qatar had ceased to be a British protectorate only eight years previously and who should they hire to sweep down with a pyramidal hospitality-craft but William Pereira - sci-fi fan boy and chief architect in the late seventies to all optimistic-futurists of the Middle East.  After a long career of dotting Southern California with atriumed ziggurats and the Disneyland Hotel, Pereira designed the Yanbu housing complex in Saudi, the Imperial Medical Center in Iran and the “Saddam” International Airport in Iraq, all of which showcased his flare for Flash Gordon.

The iconic Doha Sheraton (his final project in the Middle East) arrived in 1982 on 3000 piles and pillars, sinking its steel shafts deep into the reclaimed gravel coastline of Qatar. 

When the hotel opened its luxuriously Air Conditioned doors, astronaut Alan Shephard was the first to check-in.

The first American in orbit was also the first American to see the brightly imagined future of Qatar – and it was glorious!  Pereira’s Sheraton was constructed from a seductive Islam-ish fantasy-future of mosaiced mirrors and disco-lit elevators and Marble Queen vines cascading over the largest standing chandelier in the world: a crystal palm-tree. 

Today great follies proposing to bridge ‘tradition’ and ‘progress’ arrive in stacks from the desks of ‘starchitects’ hoping build yet another shell of a pseudo-Arab structure ‘veiled’ in ‘modern-mashrabiah’ built to over-populate our crumbling glass-and-concrete ghost town.

Take Jean Nouvel’s slick silver innuendo as example: Nouvel claims this is a tower inspired by a medieval Islamic helmet housed in the I.M. Pei Museum of Islamic Art. 

However I’ve watched it erect itself, swelling up from its foundations, chain-mail exoskeleton hardening over exposed beams. Every morning I drive towards it on the corniche, and now as it nears completion and looms over my dashboard, I have to worry that it may just be a collosal dirty joke.

For which it stands

We discussed the definition of camouflage in our post Hiding in Plain Sight:  if something is camouflage, then it is attempting to be protected by misrepresenting itself to appear to be part of the natural surroundings. 

The SqishHistorically, camouflage was developed as an early form of biomimicry used by combatants in an attempt to be invisible to the enemy.  In the jungle of our suburban landscape, camouflage is being utilized to hide inanimate objects from the enemy critic who has determined that the natural form of the satellite dish is ugly and should be disguised to blend in with the natural surrounding of the brick veneer. 

In the age of wireless communication, the satellite dish was once linked with status; however, as satellite television has become easily accessible, the compact TV satellite dish has become ubiquitous and deemed unattractive.  A company called Sqish has developed a new flat dish that blends in with the structure on which it is mounted by use of "sqishoflage," which utilizes user-supplied photographic siting input to develop a self-adhesive sticker to apply to the surface of the dish that matches the dish's background.  And suddenly we have an attractive dish?  No, you can't see it--it's camouflage, remember?  Wait, I think I see something...what is that matte-finish faux-brick protrusion extending from your wall?  This is a self-described "funky" alternative, and it is obviously not a mainstream replacement for the satellite dish.

Typical apartment building TV satellite dish installationAnother recent attempt to address the issues with the dish "problem" was to draw attention to, rather than hide, the circular dish shape by "pimping" the dishes through individual artistic makeovers.  This unique effort was a project instigated by an artist, not by the satellite dish owners or the city.  We do not see this type of action as a solution to the perceived problem, either.

As sustainable home practices become more en vogue, satellite dish appearances become more dated.  It is within the eye of the urban beholder where it has been determined that residential windmills and even solar panels mounted on homes are acceptable (if not attractive) because of their sustainably productive qualities and for the values for which they stand.  But as less and less effort is invested into aesthetics of the mass-produced satellite dish in an effort to keep costs down to compete with cable, the satellite dish will continue to dot the suburban landscape with their grey yet functional selves until, we believe, they become outdated or hybridized with an energy-producing feature such as a solar panel or windmill.

Infrastructure NOW #2

Bundled Infrastructure: recently completed light rail expansion along I-25 corridor in metro DenverThe Functionality predicts that the rights-of-way currently occupied by freeways in and around our cities will be one of a few great urban opportunities of the near future. The sustained horizontal growth of the last few decades seems unlikely to continue, notwithstanding dips in the price of oil. Los Angeles (America’s densest “horizontal” city) slowed its outward growth years ago, where it was constricted by local politics (Home Owners Associations, etc.) and geographic boundaries. Now, other sun-belt cities without such impediments (Las Vegas, Phoenix, Miami, Atlanta, etc.), have been hit with a glut of toxic, foreclosed housing supply that is often remote from major transit arteries.

As we've explained before, conditions are right for us to think big again about transportation (and the city at large). What is the future of the car, train, bus, bicycle? Even more pressing: how do we put people back to work, and encourage our cities to grow at a time when everyone is broke? The Functionality has a few ideas. Here’s one:

TRANSIT PASTA: extruded transit infrastructure bundled with developable parcelsStacked Transit City:

a slender, multi-level stack that can accommodate the spatial requirements of whatever transit cocktail we come up with in the future (road, rail, bus-way, bike-way, waterslides, etc).  Visualize the cross-section of a manhattan skyscraper, extruded like pasta for miles above the corpse of the 20th century freeway. (By combining modes of transport in this way, we can convincingly argue against separate, unequal economic stimulus numbers for autos and rail).  So here’s the kicker: leftover space within and above the stack is made available at a discount for private development, helping to defray the public costs of construction. No calls for eminent domain--just maximizing the utility of public land in the heart of the city! 

Of course, no-one likes to live near the freeway. Why? Because no-one has ever really been invested in the freeway—its always been a public entitlement and not much else. Worse, it been used at times to callously disrupt and divide the city (see cross-bronx expressway, or dan ryan expressway). In the future, our transit corridors will almost certainly be tied to the vitality of our culture, and so must no longer be regarded as aesthetic or urbanistic afterthoughts. This opens myriad new challenges and opportunities for designers and engineers of all stripes. How does one access public space above the transit stack? How do we keep the air clean for housing? These questions will be answered eventually.

So, we’ve killed four birds with one stone:

  • Built-in flexibility for future transit/development options;
  • Cheap land for accessible, sustainable development—no eminent domain;
  • Job creation for many;
  • Recuperated image of the urban freeway.