Tag Archives: social consciousness

MVRDV Slammed for Seoul project design

I started this conversation on Facebook and had to bring it here…designers and non-designers alike, what do you think?

Please read the link below via LA Times. MVRDV is a very well respected, progressive Dutch firm who us designers know of very well. Personally, I can’t make the connection to think these guys did anything premeditated to draw connections to the twin towers. The project is in Seoul. Vertical, high density building typologies are common place. There is nothing new about the concept of an elevated horizontal connector between two volumes. This is part of a larger project which is headed up by Daniel Libeskind – the master plan architect for the reconstruction of Ground Zero.

Does it look a bit inappropriate from the American perspective? Probably. Keep in mind, these guys are not American, nor is the project in America. The Dutch are far from politically controversial. Given how bright these guys are, maybe they should have seen this coming. After all, we are in fact a bit hyper sensitive over here. I’m all for maintaining sensitivity towards an obviously terrible moment for our country, but I have a hard time jumping all over MVRDV here. After this fire storm, this will never be built. But this raises some real questions about how architecture can be influenced by so many forces – international public opinion being one of them.





Filed under Design

Pittsburgh – Most Livable U.S. City…Again

This article from Reuters says The Economist lists Pittsburgh as America’s most livable city.


That’s a tag that we’ve seen a few times here over the past few years, and is certainly a very impressive designation. My wonderful friends in Vancouver quickly pointed out that their city comes in at #1 most livable in the world, with Pittsburgh down at #29. Having been to Vancouver to see them, I can totally understand why. We can certainly be happy about our #1 designation in the U.S., but hearing this again raised some questions for me more than anything:

1. How are we #1 in the U.S.? I love this city as much as anyone, but this city has its deficiencies. We obviously have a great healthcare system, world-class higher education, low cost of living/housing, great arts and culture scene. However, our public transit stinks, there is no downtown residential market, no favorable climate for businesses to move downtown, and a political structure unwilling to allow those with a vision in office to pursue that vision. We all know that our mayor doesn’t have one. It appears as though density equals crime and congestion, which hurts the major worldwide metropolises.

2. How is the top U.S. city only #29 in the world? That to me is fairly embarrassing on a larger scale. I will admit that I have yet to visit a city in the U.S. that has the amenities that a Vancouver does, so I won’t argue their #1 position. That’s a great city. But how far have we gone downhill that the U.S. has the 29th most livable city in the world? That’s just truly baffling to me.

3. If Pittsburgh is #1 in the U.S., how do we improve it to push it up the list worldwide? As a passionate Pittsburgher with no intentions of leaving soon, I want to be able to affect change in this city. That is one marvelous thing about this town – it is very small. If you want to affect change, you most certainly can. I don’t bring up the deficiencies of Pittsburgh to merely criticize it – I don’t think we can gloat that we get a designation like this and be happy. There are many, many things that can be improved upon to make this city an even better place. If anyone gets complacent about that, we are in trouble.

4. Refer to question #1. Just how bad are other U.S. cities transportation systems, costs of living, etc that Pittsburgh tops them all? Moreover, what happens if Pittsburgh gets hot and the housing market spikes up to the levels of other major areas? Suddenly, we aren’t so ‘livable’.

Lists like these are always great for the morale, and always a reminder to me how lucky we are live here. However, I’m going to keep doing what I can to move our city up that list – ’cause in this big town/small city we live in, its possible for a guy like me a or a person like you to affect this whole city. Now THAT is advantage Pittsburgh.


Filed under Pittsburgh

Weddings + Architecture

Professor Justin Hilton told me in my first year of architecture school that we were all in the program because something in us was a control freak. We could control virtually all of a person’s senses by the way we crafted space. We control the way people circulate, what they see, what they hear, what they feel, smell – about everything but taste, unless they feel like licking some hardwood floor.

I now pass this saying along to my students, as I feel it is critical to understand the effect a designer can have on an occupant of space even at a subconscious level. This brings me to my real topic: have we over controlled space?

I bring this up because I got married last Saturday. It was the most beautiful day a person could ever ask for outside, and it ended up being the best day of my life. The only hitch in the entire day happened during the ceremony, which I will get to in a few.

Think about all of the common interior spaces people hold a marriage ceremony- a beautiful cathedral, a neighborhood church, a Vegas chapel, a city courthouse. These spaces evoke different emotions and actions, and are very controlled. The environment is created by the architecture itself, and occupants react accordingly – subconsciously or consciously.

Exterior spaces however present an element of the unknown…nature. Sure, a beach setting for a wedding ceremony will bring the gentle crashing of waves, the distant sounds of boats cruising along the shoreline, and the rustle of palm trees in the breeze. At any moment though, those sounds change. An airplane might fly over the gazebo at the most inopportune moment. Its a part of the elements – and where true character is found.

Now, back to my wedding ceremony. We got married at a local mansion, where we used the exterior areas for the ceremony. An angry neighbor decided that it would be fun to throw a child’s birthday party facing over top of our exterior ceremony site, inflatable jump and all. Despite the fact the children were saying ‘Shhhh its a wedding!!’, the angry neighbors egged them on to scream even louder at the beginning of the ceremony. Now on top of being nervous and emotional from seeing my beautiful bride, I am now increasingly frustrated with the lack of respect these people are showing towards our big day. They suddenly quieted right as we said our vows [because the police showed up] so ultimately it worked out wonderfully.

Looking back on it now, I feel like I will remember my ceremony a bit more distinctly that this happened than if it was held in a controlled environment. We had character. Its a story to tell. It gives me a renewed sensitivity to how beautiful nature is, how beautiful the character of a city is. Whether it comes at an inopportune time or not, sometimes the character of the unknown is refreshing.

So I sit and think, do we control space too much? In an era where character is diminishing all around us, should we let more of our surroundings in and enjoy it, good or bad, while we still have it to enjoy? For me, I now get to enjoy life and all of its unknowns with my love – and there’s no sense in not enjoying everything life brings.

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PBS Airing Documentary on Rural Studio

Rural Studio is an amazing design-build program through Auburn University, founded by Samuel Mockbee. I’ve been in love with their story and their work now for many years. I won’t get in to the story, because PBS is airing a one-hour documentary on their work tomorrow. For some reason I don’t have it listed as being on in Pittsburgh tomorrow, but I’ll find it somehow. Below is the preview – watch it – pretty awesome.


Rural Studio is so much what I am about.  Forget Libeskind, Venturi, Koohaas, Eisenman, Meier, all of those guys. None of them is a hero to me when it comes to architecture. Samuel Mockbee is a superhero in my book.

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