More urban change questions

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More interesting questions about humans and cities and nature…

“What is the relationship between humans and nature? How does this question play out in the specific micro-environments of cities?” (p.71)

Ref: Nicholas Low, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Green and Darko Radovic (2005) The Green city: Sustainable homes, sustainable suburbs. Routledge, Abingdon and New York; and UNSW Press, Sydney

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urban change questions

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These questions are posed in the context of sustainable urban development, but I think them both interesting and relevant to fictional concerns (perhaps especially those of urban fantasy and fiction more generally?):

“Ultimately,” write, “the green city will reflect a rather different future for work. On this topic there are some very large questions: can a future of cities competing against one another in world markets be reconciled with a benign future for the environment? What are the limits of competition and how can they be enforced? Does economic growth itself have limits? How can growth be steered into environmentally benign forms of production? What forms of governance are required to regulate world markets in order to guarantee social security and environmental conservation? How do culture, place and climate influence work patterns, and consequently the physical accommodation of work?” (p.132)

Ref: Nicholas Low, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Green and Darko Radovic (2005) The Green city: Sustainable homes, sustainable suburbs. Routledge, Abingdon and New York; and UNSW Press, Sydney

Travis Price – designing with metaphor

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Explaining how his design process starts, Travis Price describes encountering the view over a powerful river on the site of the Gelman-Salop residence and beginning to make sense of the pending design through his clients’ Jewishness. Of his design process, Price writes: “You start walking around, and feel a spirit or a piece of nature or a piece of a mythical metaphor. A gesture emerges to mind. It not only speaks to how a building is going to sit technically on the site, but how it is going to move you along on the site. How am I going to walk through it? How am I going to experience vistas and openness, commune with nature? How can it free my body and spirit, in a modern sense, as the Movement lens begins to make space.” (p.168)

Ref:  Travis Price (c2006)The Archaeology of Tomorrow: Architecture and the Spirit of Place. Earth Aware: San Rafael, CA

We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us

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Introducing his ‘Mythic Modern’ approach to architecture, Travis Price declares:

“A void permeates today’s architectural landscape. Economies of scale ignore the scale of the spirit. The result is an architecture that promulgates isolation and homogeneity.” (p.20)

Churchill’s comment that “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” takes on new meaning when we see so many buildings that are shaped the same. Where does individuality reside? When militant homeowner communities impose homogeneity, the loss of identity is magnified. All that is left of self-expression is the color of the SUV in the driveway.” (p.20)

The greatest cost of the automobile-driven environment, however, is not the sprawl nor the ecological waste and excessive consumption: it is the toll of soullessness. Yet market reality cannot be ignored; so, within our economic constraints, what do we build now?” (p.20)

“Architects of vision are stuck daily with a Promethean curse. Each day they propose the possibilities for more authenticity, but daily their livers are devoured by the blinding path of standardized buildings demanded by the consumer, the government regulators, and the building moguls. The need for regeneration of authenticity goes beyond architecture: it permeates the superficial world of fashion, it permeates fine arts, it permeates music and almost every art form there is. Everything we do exists as an art form, even if badly conceived or executed.
One could always say, well, what’s so wrong about going to the mall? What’s so wrong about coming out to my house in McVille or McTown? What’s really so bad about a new high rise with neo-whatever banality pasted all over it? What’s the big hoopla? As the saying goes, “There’s nothing wrong with it, but it just ain’t right.” The subtle curse is that these soulless buildings are so seductively safe and easy to tolerate; that’s why their growth is so rampant.
Why do people make deliberate decisions to move to such an environment? When you distill it all down, it’s because they want a material, isolationist, safe world. That’s find, but very empty. It doesn’t have the layers that Rome, London, Kathmandu, Istanbul, downtown Boston, or old San Francisco have. Where you’ve got the palimpsest of change, you’ve got memory and meaning and metaphor, metaphor that rings out with layers of authenticity.” (p.24)

“Without redressing our growing definitions of authenticity, we can’t go much further; architecture has to be metaphorically reinvigorated. What I propose to call the Mythic Modern is the equilibrium of the earth and the spirit and the industrial revolution, a combination of three “lenses” I have come to call Stillness, Movement, and Nature.
Myth matters, industrial freedom matters, and the environment matters.” (p.30)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Travis Price (c2006)The Archaeology of Tomorrow: Architecture and the Spirit of Place. Earth Aware: San Rafael, CA

How do we fit into history?

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Architects are currently challenged with not only designing stimulating architecture for today, but also creating noteworthy archaeology for tomorrow. To add to the challenge, most architects are faced with constructing in an already built environment: the mixed architecture of the past becomes the backdrop for the design of the future. What is this future, how do we design for the next hundred years, and how do we fit into history? Architecture is that sprawling manmade world between the earthly and the metaphysical, floating – sometimes peacefully and sometimes violently – between the ecosphere and the ethnosphere. What we make today needs to resonate with both, reflecting an equilibrium among nature, eternity, and change.
The virtual realities of the future, often seen in sci-fi movies, are visions seen substantially through the Movement lens only: the controlled, fast-action pace of films. This has become an addiction, and futurists go askew as dramatic purposes demand. Looking at the evocative designs of Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaus, or Zaha Hadid, for instance, we see dynamic architecture far from the sterile techno versions imagined by Hollywood, yet still one-dimensionally dedicated to rapid progress. What resonates today and is likely to endure tomorrow must transcend any trend, all the while creating a unique statement of the landscape and the metaphysics of the culture from which it emerges, while offering a full measure of the dynamic times in which it was built.” (p.166)

“We must explore how architecture today can more appropriately reflect upon, nourish, and shape the soul of modern man.” (p.166)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Travis Price (c2006)The Archaeology of Tomorrow: Architecture and the Spirit of Place. Earth Aware: San Rafael, CA

What landscape of the imagination do we want to bequeath to our descendants?

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Summing up Travis Price’s work in The Archaeology of Tomorrow,  Wade Davis writes:

“The magical and mystical resonance of Machu Picchu does not lie in its history alone. Its universal appeal and power is found in the metaphors and prayers, the cosmic notions that led to its construction. These were ideas and intuitions so transcendent that they are still felt today, five hundred years after the death of the people who gave them form, even by a humble tourist who knows nothing of their meaning yet reflexively absorbs something of their essence.
This, I believe, is what Travis Price means when he speaks of the architecture of today becoming the archaeology of tomorrow. In his quest for the mythic, what he really seeks is the perfection of the authentic. His goal is not to reinvent the architectural past, but to implement the essential elements of what makes for greatness in any age. He asks fundamental questions. What kind of world do we want to inhabit, what landscape of the imagination do we want to bequeath to our descendants? What forms do we want to erect around the lives of our children, knowing full well that the shape of these structures will both reflect their memories and inspire their deepest aspirations?” (p.15)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Travis Price (c2006)The Archaeology of Tomorrow: Architecture and the Spirit of Place. Earth Aware: San Rafael, CA

Architecture is not just about how to build, but why

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Historically, architects do “swirly squirrelly” things on buildings. The more evolved made shapes based on sacred geometries in order to evoke the gods; others, such as the Victorians, designed details to echo needlework and fretwork. There are numerous examples where seeming oddities had meanings relevant to the culture and metaphysics of the times. Today, modern man, in search of a soul, is asking just such questions: Why am I on the planet, and what am I looking for in my inner world? What are my myths (secular-humanist or otherwise), and how can my building be designed with them in mind?
Those questions may be asked repeatedly, and even if unanswered, will begin the first, key Socratic step. Somewhere in the asking workable answers will arise. Without inquiring, nothing arises, except perhaps someone else’s weakened answer: That’s usually when the tastefully uninspired design unfolds. When an architect or a client starts to address these questions, they open up a huge new world, one called the mythic or the metaphysical world. Architecture is not just about how to build, but why; and how do we build something that stirs us? Thinking about such considerations is the beginning of the poetry of designing diverse, meaningful architecture.” (p.28)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Travis Price (c2006) The Archaeology of Tomorrow: Architecture and the Spirit of Place. Earth Aware: San Rafael, CA