Direct from the wee urban planners of Mrs. Burger’s second grade class at Bear Creek Elementary School comes a new vision of city living:
The small, tall buildings are individual houses and the city is divided into distinct neighborhoods, each with its own collection of civic buildings – police station, fire station, airport, library, and because this is Boulder: the recycling center and Humane Society. Actually the substructure of each building is a milk carton and the whole thing is a creative re-use project, making art (and urbanism) out of the collected used milk and juice cartons of the class.
(Boulder’s anti-density, NIMBYs might note that Icicle City is quite nice and the density is quite high – even 8 year olds know that much)
this is part 2 of series of essential books for architects. If you saw the first post you will have noticed that I am not talking about books that feature buildings by architects. Those are valuable resources for knowledge and inspiration, and some even equally essential, like Between Silence and Light on Kahn. The works I am listing here are primarily about architectural theory and history, things some architects take too far and most not at all. For my part, I think this stuff is important and I can’t imagine practicing architecture without a thorough grounding in the questions of why we do what we do beyond mere formalism.
Part 2 starts with three essential texts on the nature of cities.
Urbanism’s Essential pre-requisites
Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities
The romantic view of the city. Jacobs is our finest observer of what constitutes a city.
Manfredo Tafuri Architecture and Utopia
The marxist view of the city. This is a bit pedantic, but still worth slogging through as a companion to the above.
Italo Calvino Invisible Cities
The poetic view of the city. This is really not about urbanism at all, but is a beautiful, enthralling narrative of the imagination with the city as a character.
and now two other companion pieces, this time on the nature of meaning in architecture:
the meaning of architecture
Christian Norberg-Schulz Intentions in Architecture
Like Tafuri’s work, this can be also be tough going but it is the standard Modernist take on architecture and its embodied meaning. All of Norberg-Schulz’s works are excellent and if only architects could stay focused on these issues instead of being overwhelmed by budgets, schedules and frankly trivial questions of style and language then our built environment would be one we could be justly proud of.
Robert Venturi Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture
In all ways the opposite of the above, especially in tone and writing style, Venturi writes largely in response to the cold clarity of Modernism worst reductivist tendencies. It is not as opposed to Norberg-Sculz as you might at first suspect, for each author’s obvious passion for architecture and its meanings is thrillingly evident.
Monday is the annual running of the Boulder Bolder. Grand public events always transform a city in the most interesting and unique ways. Some cities have massive parades or street festivals, but Boulder has a 10K road race. Each year Folsom, 13th Street, Pearl Street, etc. are fantastically transformed from their quotidian existence as common, auto-dominated byways into a running, jogging, waking mass of humanity. At the finish line, in Folsom Field, a Memorial Day tribute is celebrated along with the consumption of all those power drinks and energy bars.
The Boulder Bolder attracts some 50,000 participants, the first waves of serious runners followed by wave after wave of qualifying times, everyday runners, joggers, and finally the walkers and strollers. Along the way are some 30-something bands, innumerable wacky costumes (you really don’t know you are in legitimate public event until a guy in a nun’s habit with a beard wanders by), and the longest, densest stream of refuse a mildly progressive high-desert college town can stand.
It is of course easy to make fun of the Boulder Bolder, but like all of these kinds of public events, they are great and really transformative events in the city. Just the change of the streets from auto to human alone is worthy of admiration and celebration.
According to historical statistics, some 10% or so of the Boulder public take part and for at least one day experience the city on foot. Even in Boulder, resplendent with bikers and runners, it is increasingly rare that movement through the a city is experienced without the mediating filter of the automobile and its associated radio and cellphone partners in alienation. This should be of particular note to architects as we work in a medium that frankly unfolds slowly, more at the pace of walking than a multimedia experience. For architecture, done well and thoughtfully, is a multi-sensory experience and it takes time and a bit of reflection to allow the aural and haptic impressions to make their mark and not be overwhelmed and subsumed by the merely visual. That time is still most likely of a person, walking, stopping, and walking again, not the diminished experience of a multi-tasking driver.
So, Boulderites, take your time. Don’t worry about setting a course record, you can’t, leave it to pros. Revel in the experience of the city, the streets, your fellow citizens and visitors. The only other time this many people take to the streets, revolution is in the air.
(my apologies for whomever’s copyright I might be infringing upon. You see I usually get out of town on the day and don’t have any of my own photos. This year my wife and eldest daughter are running so many photos will be taken)