Archive for October 2011
Paula Scher, a designer at Pentagram, has released a new book of her typographic maps. These colorful creations, overflowing with detail that show the world, continents, countries and cities in a very different way are sure to make it onto many a map lover’s Christmas lists (thanks to Theo Inglish for leading me to them). Here are a few:
This picture of Detroit by Sydney Hirsch (that I found thanks to This City Called Earth) makes the city look like any other metropolis. Though in the same way as Kremlinologists used to analyze Soviet politics from the order in which its leaders appeared during public events and North Korean trials can be seen in the lack of lights in Pyongyang windows or the construction delays of the great leader’s boastarchitectural projects, does the absence of traffic say something about Motown? To be able to stand in the middle of a big intersection, in a major city, in the middle of the day without getting mangled by a dozen cars is not a sign of urban vitality. Then again, trafficology may be just as robust as kremlinology, if it’s a weekend no observer should be fooled by this inner-city desolation since urban emptiness is nothing unique to Detroit, but a nationwide phenomena.
These city images are from an amazing Denver Post slide-show of color pictures that shows the America of 1939-1943 like it was yesterday. Not many things feel like you can reach out and touch history, this does. Check out the full 70 pictures!
Rio de Janeiro is embracing the world, but looking inwards. At the same time as the city is getting ready to host the World Cup in soccer as well as the Olympics, while attracting more and more foreign direct investment after a decades long slump, Rio boosterism takes a nativist turn. Henrik Brandaõ Jönsson writes in the Danish newspaper Politiken about how ‘O Cristo Redentor’, the Marevellous city’s Jesus, has been given a new father.
Over the past 80 years a Frenchman, the art deco sculptor Paul Landowski, has been considered the statue’s creator in that he was responsible for the design of Rio’s most famous landmark. Not any more. To celebrate the city’s resurgence, Mayor Eduardo Paes has proclamated that the true creator of Christ the Redeemer is none other than the Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa.
Heitor da Silva Costa used to be the Italian engineer Heitor Levy though, obscuring the statue’s origin further since it may be neither French nor Brazilian but in fact Italian. But don’t be too happy Italy; Swedes have always known that all of this is wrong. The very fundamental foundation is actually made out Swedish rock from the quarry in Limhamn, which rendered ‘O Cristo Redentor’ the less impressive epithet ‘Limhamn’s Jesus’ among Swedish sailors, according to Brandaõ Jönsson.
It could therefore be argued with some legitimacy that the symbol of Rio – and in many ways Brazil – can be traced to the Malmö outskirts, or, conversely, that it’s a splendid project based on global cooperation with input from many different countries that lends Rio de Janeiro justice as a city that isn’t so much attached to a single nation and landmass as it is a unique place unlike anywhere else that welcomes people from everywhere to join in the fun and have a good time.
North Korea has just announced that it’s getting ready to open the long awaited Ryugjong Hotel after a quarter century of delays. The Pyongyang skyline will hence be dominated by this gem of a building:
The design does not follow the traditional North Korean box format, instead you can clearly see that it draws inspiration from various secterian headquarters around the globe. As for the future occupancy rate, it’s projected to be low.
Doug Saunders, author of “Arrival City”, a book that portrays the world’s shanty towns, gives a talk to the RSA about the richness of slums. Many works have appeared lately that show what amazing things that are taking place behind the rickety walls of the developing world’s urban underbelly. Rather than solely being hell on earth or bottomless pits of despair the image of slums is undergoing a rapid transformation in the global mind thanks to people like Doug Saunders, who show that below and beyond the dirty, narrow alleyways of places like Dharavi shanties are teeming of opportunity and entrepreneurship, providing the single best path for a poor rural migrant to a better life.
It’s ironic that most of the post WWII architecture that aspired to be an egalitarian force used in the fight to would mould a new man world end up being such an alienating failure. By setting up strict guidelines for how social life would flourish, in a setting where the built environment would eradicate personality in order to promote community, it only succeeded in losing the person without forming a group.
That it happened does not seem surprising today, but the curious thing is that it couldn’t be foreseen. How could people find blocks and blocks of a soulless concrete mass of smooth grey and brown surfaces, completely devoid of detail and individual character, inspiring?
But maybe it’s an ignorant view, maybe it’s just me who can’t understand how the vast majority of buildings that were erected back then didn’t provoke a sense that something was lacking, that all those buildings looked the same and, more than that, that they looked like no one had thought at all. It’s possible that in every absent detail there is great meaning and that all of those people who think that a 1960s housing complex like the one below, in the Stockholm suburb of Täby, just looks like a couple of concrete slabs piled on top of each other don’t understand.
Or what about this? A creation of a set of gifted and socially minded designers?
No, just four actual slabs of concrete! What the street artist EVOL made by taking four blocks and adding some windows through the skilled use of paint looks exactly the same as what the clever architects of Täby tried to do with vastly greater resources. So maybe there is nothing greater to understand after all.
Leslie Chang’s book “Factory Girls” has been at the top of my list for a while, although I haven’t been able to read it yet. Luckily though, she gave a talk at Google a while ago that is as interesting as the reviews of her written work say her book is (both the actual talk as well as her answers to many good questions).
Leslie Chang is one of a growing number of authors engaged in high quality investigative journalism in China that give the ongoing industrialization and urbanization a human face and meaning, which power structures that matter, what the relationship between the local and federal level looks like, what ordinary Chinese people are allowed to do, what they are doing and thinking etc.
But on top of that, what is so fascinating with the current transformation in China is not only its massive scale and rapid pace, or what Reform and Opening has meant for the country itself, but that it gives the West a looking glass into its own industrial transformation. To hear and read about the lives of millions of migrant workers along the Chinese coast does something that history books cannot do, fully convey what economic development and cities do for people in terms of economic, social, cultural and individual freedom – opportunity in the broadest sense of the word. Life in Chinese cities is truly boiling over of creation, and Leslie Chang gives a clear and concise description of what that looks like:
It’s a mystery why Vienna markets itself as a weekend destination. Sundays fall on weekends, and in Vienna Sundays are dead. That Germany and Austria still adheres to the idea that the seventh day is made for rest was something I’d heard before, though I didn’t imagine it still was the case. To me, it seemed more like an exaggerated “you can’t believe it”-travel tale than reality. But no, Vienna still shuts down on Sundays. Super markets go into hibernation, cafés are dormant and the goods in shops remain safely tucked away behind shutters and blinds.
Commercial activity halts to a minimum and the Viennese themselves disappear. They are nowhere to be seen, not on streets, on buses or in the metro, indicating that the usage of free public spaces doesn’t increase when access to consumption of goods and services is restricted, because if that was the case one would at least see people moving around the city going from place A to B. Rather than being substitutes, leaving home and heading to a park or a square is thus a compliment to shopping.
For all of the Vienna municipal authority’s mastery of efficient public transportation, the six day commercial week shows that it fails to understand a crucial part of a modern city’s function: that urban areas are centers of consumption as well as production. And while urban thinkers such as Curítiba’s former mayor Jaime Lerner focus on creating 24 hour streets that generate maximum usage and revenue from public space investments, Vienna’s leaders have effectively rendered all of their grand city empty and useless one day per week. How much can that cost?
The Atlantic Cities has a slide show of “The World’s Best Subway Maps” that is worth checking out. Though I question that some of their picks’ belong on this list. Sometimes iconic transit map designs can make a real dent in popular culture (enough for the New Yorker to lament its disappearance 30 years later). But two things are sure, and that is that neither the Buffalo nor the Atlanta transport map will find its way onto a t-shirt worth buying anytime soon:
This classic Seoul subway map though, I have as a poster: