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March 01, 2009

Visits with the New Urbanism

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A couple of calm and rewarding visits with recent New Urbanist projects: John Massengale strolls through Princeton's new Whitman College (designed by the brilliant Dmitri Porphyrios and funded by eBay's Meg Whitman); Laurence Aurbach takes a look at three award-winning European New-Urb neighborhoods.

For contrast, take a look at Kevin Buchanan's roundup of Fort Worth's worst buildings. Those mostly-Modernist monstrosities are the kind of thing architects are all-too-prone to create. Fun to read James Kunstler slamming the SPLC's chic nightmare of a new headquarters too.



posted by Michael at March 1, 2009


Re Whitman College:

There is still hope that what men have lost they will find again.

Posted by: slumlord on March 1, 2009 5:37 AM

Thanks for the mention! Might I also suggest that readers check out the thread on the most beautiful building in town - just so they don't think our fair city is an anti-urban nightmare. :)


Posted by: Kevin Buchanan on March 1, 2009 9:31 AM

1) In the mid-1970s I used to visit a friend who was going to Princeton and discovered that the campus provided startling examples of the under-appreciated magnificence of well-designed modern traditionalism vs. the "emperor-has-no-clothes" over-ratedness of much of orthodox modernism. I was pretty much overwhelmed by some of the modern traditional buildings (particularly the dorms) -- not just for their "look," but for their layouts and the incredible spaces, both interior and exterior, that they created. And they just seemed to work so well for whatever function they had. But the modern stuff was a great disappointment -- even to someone who, especially at that time, had a strong liking for some orthodox modern architecture (although, even then, I was already skeptical of the ideology of orthodox modernism).

My friend was living in a mid-1960s (?) dorm on the southern edge of the campus (which, indeed, seems to have been torn down and replaced by Whitman College), but most of his friends were in the neo-Gothic dorms to the north. (His modern dorm was designed by a well-known modern architect. For some reason, though, I always get this architect confused with another well-known modern architect. If I remember correctly, both of them have designed modern buildings in Manhattan that I like. The designer of his dorm may be the one who later designed the Equitable Building -- or maybe he was the one who did the Citicorp Building (which had a really nice interior, by the way, before they messed it up with a renovation in the early 1990s[?].)

Both the interior and the exterior of his dorm (individual single rooms off of a service corridor) were very alienating (you couldn't wait to leave the place), while the modern traditional dorms (mini-apartments), which his friends lived-in, were incredible -- they were fun to visit (with complex interesting entrances and stairways, if I remember correctly) and had nice, sociable, layouts. You just wanted to move right in!

The modern buildings were such disappointments. At first I thought they were done by second-tier orthodox modernists -- I thought that for some reason Princeton wasn't choosing top-of-the-line modernists (despite having a school of architecture). But when I learned more about the buildings, I discovered they were done by some "big" names. (To be fair, though, maybe they just didn't do their best work at Princeton? Also, I didn't have entree [sp?] to some of the modern buildings -- as they were admistrative or faculty -- so maybe the rest of such structures were better than just their facades.)

One orthodox modernist building that I did pop into, though, was one of the biggest disappointments. It was a Gwathmey/Siegel rebuilding of an historic building that had been severely damaged in a fire. Although the exterior was kind of "fun" (described by some as an ocean liner that had crashed into a Greek temple") the interior was "nothing." (If I remember correctly, I later read a professional review of the building that said pretty much the same thing and thus seemed to corroborate my admittedly very brief visit.)

2) It's a shame that architectural writers IN GENERAL -- not just those involved with this post, either directly or indirectly -- don't provide more plans (for buildings) or site plans (for developments). Plans and/or site plans communicate so much essential information -- and photos can be so misleading.

I first got to thinking about this, perhaps, while reading Paul Goldberger many years ago. Goldberger is a terrific writer, but it seemed to me that there was a lot missing in his articles -- "what in the world is he talking about?" -- because he (or, rather, the "New York Times") almost never showed you the plans of the buildings (or site plans of the developments) that he was discussing -- and were pretty stingy with the photos too. (This is in contrast to the articles that I would read in "Architectural Forum" or the "Architectural Record" -- articles that would have wonderful plans and sections in addition to a plethora of photos.)

3) When I was studying urban planning, some other urban planning students and I got involved in some group projects with architectural-trained urban design students. One thing that struck me -- which was corroborated by some other planning students in the program, as well -- was that on our site trips (e.g., to Philadelphia or Baltimore), the architecturally trained urban design students always seemed to be gravitating to little design details and seemed to have surprisingly little interest (for URBAN design students) in "the larger picture."

Years later, it seems to me that I see much of the same thing in discussions of urbanism. It seems to me that the biggest boosters of New [Sub-]Urbanism tend to have a interest in the visual and thus New [Sub-]Urbanism, despite protestations to the contrary, really tends to be dominated by discussions, directly or indirectly, on aesthetics (with other things, like economics, being used to essentially help justify the aesthetics).

I happen to like the aesthetics of much of New [Sub]-Urbanism. But as mentioned in previous comments, I think it is a mistake to think of New [Sub-]Urbanism (as it is done and discussed, as opposed to "in theory") as "urbanism" -- because it leads to confusion rather than to clarity.

4) Along these lines, I think it would have been more accurate to title the original post something along the lines of "Visits to Some Neo-Traditionally Designed Developments" -- especially since the apparently very impressive rebuilding of the Neumarkt in Dresden, German, was included in the discussion.

# # #

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on March 1, 2009 2:43 PM

I notice that in Poundbury, UK, 20% of the housing is mandated affordable with a goal of 35% in the near future. The dumb fucks are dooming themselves. Let's see, what that means is that pretty little Poundbury will be "hosting" both malevolently hostile muzzies and hooliganish muzzie bashers in its midst, benefiting from all of their marvelous behavioral and environmental "culture." Of course, it's unfair to label the anointed ones who are driven to impose their egalitarian obsession on everyone everywhere as dumb fucks, willfully blind fucks is more accurate.

Posted by: ricpic on March 1, 2009 4:04 PM

" just so they don't think our fair city is an anti-urban nightmare."

Fort Worth has the Stockyards, a middling art museum and a decent theater for art films. Don't mislead people into thinking there's anything else to entice them into visiting. Dallas has better architecture but the people have always been pretentious and gauche, sort of like California, I hear.

Posted by: shiva on March 1, 2009 6:26 PM

Yes, ricpic, better to create rxclusive gated communities and festering ghettos which, upon the installation of a government with the proper view about the role of the underclasses, can be firebombed. Once the rubble is cleared away Western Civilization can rise again, using the most genetically desirable youngsters from the gated communities as breeding stock. And this is what you bring to a thread on architecture?

Posted by: Chris White on March 1, 2009 8:06 PM

Chris White:
Yes, ricpic, better to create rxclusive gated communities and festering ghettos which, upon the installation of a government with the proper view about the role of the underclasses, can be firebombed.

I'm quite happy to live amongst the underclass--in fact I do--provided they behave. If not, I say bring on the firebombing. But then again I'm happy to firebomb the rich if they don't behave properly.

And yes, I set the standards.

Posted by: slumlord on March 1, 2009 10:11 PM

"...exclusive gated communities and festering ghettos..."

Gated communities spring up for a reason. They are a response to the resurgence of barbarism. There are no ghettos. If there were it would be a good thing. Instead, the barbarians now live everywhere, roam everywhere, are minimally policed, and aggressively spread the blessings of their lifestyle into the civilized or at least civil population, whose only recourse is to cower behind a gate. All, all of it brought to us by you, the progressives.

Posted by: ricpic on March 2, 2009 9:40 AM

The SPLC building says a good deal about the souls, or lack thereof, of its bosses. It is entirely appropriate for what SPLC has evolved into, a shakedown shop of race-hustling lily-white trial lawyers.

Posted by: thaprof on March 2, 2009 10:02 AM

It is depressing that even a thread on architectural styles becomes an excuse for ... well, we mustn't call them racists because that is so PC ... hmm, what does one call folks who use derogatory, insulting, epithets to dismiss entire populations based on their race, religion, or level of economic achievement? Can "bigot" still be used or has that term also become too politicized? Since it has already been offered, how about we leave it at this; it is depressing that even a thread on architectural styles becomes an excuse for hooliganish dumb fucks to spout off about how much better off WE would be if only THEY were cleansed from the face of the planet.

Posted by: Chris White on March 2, 2009 1:26 PM

This decade will go down as the best since the 1920s for college and high school architecture.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on March 2, 2009 4:01 PM

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