Archive for October, 2011

October 31st, 2011

“Urbanized”: Democracy and Design

Posted in Architecture, Art and Design, Film, Politics, Video by Christopher Szabla
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Gary Hustwit clearly wanted his new documentary, Urbanized, to get more people talking or writing about cities. But he might not have expected the very literal way that admirers at Field Notes, a stationery company, would help facilitate that goal — by supplying notepads branded with the film’s logo to audiences attending early theatrical runs.

According to info printed inside, the notebooks, which are like disposable Moleskines, were inspired by “the vanishing subgenre of agricultural memo books”, boasting “innards printed on a Miller TP104 28″ x 40″ 2-color printing press,” and were inevitably produced in Portland, Oregon — capital of all that’s preciously artisanal. It’s not exactly surprising that any tribute to Hustwit would come in the form of such obsessively crafted items; his first two films, Helvetica and Objectified, have attained a certain cult status among font geeks and industrial design nerds, respectively.

Urbanized, the third in Hustwit’s so-called “design trilogy,” has a slightly different valence. There’s a definite utilitarian logic in the decision to value Helvetica over another font, or in thinking about how to craft a tool or household object. But urban design impacts many more lives on a scale orders of magnitude larger than either.

As the film chronicles, that realization has forced a once-distant discipline to consult, increasingly, those whose lives it affects. Many of the ideas the documentary presents underscore Hustwit’s enthusiasm for such engagement — whether initiated by planners and architects or their erstwhile subjects. “You have book clubs,” he implored, after a recent screening in Manhattan, “start city clubs!” Urbanized could be seen as a simple, layered presentation of world cities’ design choices — but to the extent that the documentary moves in any one direction, it’s as a meditation on how and why urban design should be democratized.


October 31st, 2011

New Art, Old Wall

Posted in Art and Design, Europe by Daniel Corbeil

If you walk through San Lorenzo, currently one of Rome’s most “trendy” neighborhoods (even if it’s also said to be “underground”) you will probably come upon this very old wall while jumping off of Tram no. 19.


October 28th, 2011

Visualizing Globalization 2.0

Posted in Art and Design, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, United States by Christopher Szabla

Top: Istanbul airlifted to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro;
Bottom: São Paulo set in Cappadocia

Imagine this: you’re walking down a side street in Midtown Manhattan and turn onto Fifth Avenue, facing uptown. But there, instead of the void of sky that usually greets the vista north toward Central Park, a massive mountain blocks the view, crowned with an uncharacteristic religious symbol. Then it strikes you: you’ve seen this rocky mass before. It looks every bit like Rio de Janeiro’s Corcorvado peak, topped with its famous statue of Christ the Redeemer. And that’s because it is Rio’s Corcorvado mountain — moved right into the heart of New York.

Welcome to the world of Ciro Miguel. The São Paulo architect spends his spare time dreaming up landscapes in which familiar urban landmarks from around the world collide. The images he’s kitbashed together are his own; most involve elements from his home country, Brazil, or New York, where he was a graduate student. Others encompass his world travels. It’s in the way Miguel’s collages represent the places and ways many travel now, in fact — reflecting trends in trade and politics driven by globalization — that they can be seen as more than mere dreamscapes, representing connections and evoking experiences that have become very real.


October 16th, 2011

Rome, cité envoutante…

Posted in Europe, Public Space, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

Erasmus, Giardino degli aranci, Roma

Les matins se succèdent à un rythme soutenu et déjà depuis une semaine je suis ici sans pouvoir prétendre comprendre ni saisir l’essentiel d’une ville tentaculaire. J’ai parcouru, à la marche, en métro, en tram, en voiture et en bus ces milliers de kilomètres de rues parfois monumentales, parfois disparates, sans trouver le fil conducteur d’une cité devenue immense par son histoire plusieurs fois millénaire.

Et toujours, le véritable essence de Rome se défile alors que je pensais la saisir, pointer le réel, stabiliser une lecture de cette métropole folle et amoureuse. Et pourtant les adjectifs se multiplies : Rome l’éternelle, la ville aux milles églises, la cité antique autour d’une chaotique mégapole du 21e siècle. Le beau, le laid. La ruine d’Auguste, le fascisme de Mussolini, l’avenir présenté par Odile Decq.

Et rien n’est jamais vrai ni si juste dans mes mots que le portrait que je dresse de Rome est balayé par le vent de la mer.


October 13th, 2011

Photos of the Week: Occupy Wall Street

Posted in Politics, Public Space, Society and Culture, United States by Christopher DeWolf

Occupy Wall Street: Day Six, NYPD surround Noguchi's Red Cube

All of this week’s photos of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests were taken by Scott Lynch on September 22nd and October 2nd.

Occupy Wall Street: Day 16, Zuccotti Park, NYPD?


October 12th, 2011

Land Reclamation — At What Cost?

Posted in Asia Pacific, Environment, History, Politics, Public Space by Christopher DeWolf


Construction of a new underground highway built on the last bit of land reclamation permitted in Victoria Harbour

If you are reading this somewhere in Hong Kong, odds are you’re sitting on a piece of land that was once a part of the sea. Since 1851, more than 60 square kilometres of land has been reclaimed from Hong Kong’s waterways, an area greater than Kowloon and nearly as large as the whole of Hong Kong Island.

Most of that reclamation took place along the shores of Victoria Harbour. That practice will come to an end next year with the completion of reclamation for the Central-Wan Chai Bypass, the last project permitted under the Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, which was passed in 1996 after a rash of reclamation proposals left the public worried that Victoria Harbour would one day disappear under a mountain of landfill.

Land in Hong Kong remains scarce, however, and the government remains intent on keeping reclamation in its toolbox. “It is necessary to resume land production by reclamation of an appropriate scale outside the Victoria Harbour so as to provide land to sustain the social and economic development of Hong Kong in the long run,” said the Permanent Secretary for Development (Works), Wai Chi-sing, last May. The government is now conducting a study of possible reclamation sites. Public consultations will begin next month.

Though Hong Kong has been reclaiming land for the better part of two centuries, it is a markedly different city than it was a century or even a decade ago. These days, nearly every major infrastructure project meets with controversy. Opposition to major development projects is often fierce, as was the case with last year’s protests over the construction of the Express Rail to mainland China. In such a stormy atmosphere, is more land reclamation really feasible?


October 9th, 2011

Lido di Ostia – ruine, fantasme et nostalgie

Posted in Art and Design, Europe, History by Daniel Corbeil

Renato Guttuso, Spiaggia, 1955-1956

J’embarquai dès le matin dans ce fantasme au bord de la Mer de Rome et qui traine toujours avec moi, comme un paysage qui me harcèle.

Ce n’est qu’un paysage, une carte postale tragiquement exotique – et qui me fit revenir en mémoire avec force l’oeuvre Spiaggia de Guttuso, le peintre sicilien mort à Rome. Seulement un panorama, de ruines et de routes ceinturées par ces pins parasols, et qui, tel les bras du Tibre, se jettent dans la mer azure qui borde la cité de Rome et son antique port d’Ostia.

On commence par prendre ce train, à la Basilique San Paolo, et qui nous mène au travers des banlieues pavillonnaires jusqu’à ces paysages de la campagne romaine. Nous ne sommes pas encore à la mer, que déjà nous accroche le Quartier Euro et où le souvenir du fascisme nous domine et crée cette étrange amertume d’une époque que pourtant je n’ai pas connu, mais qui me fascine comme tout architecte cherche à comprendre cet homme nouveau que le modernisme souhaitait façonner. La Rome nouvelle et le romain moderne imaginés par Mussolini. Cet échec d’une recherche de la perfection, idéologique.


October 8th, 2011

Snowdon’s History Lives Online

Posted in Canada, Heritage and Preservation, History, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf


Four years ago, on my way home in the aftermath of a tremendous December blizzard, I found myself wandering through Snowdon, a neighbourhood in Montreal’s west end. Trudging past waist-high snowbanks, I noticed stairs leading up to some kind of apartment courtyard. Curious, I ventured in and found an odd collection of shops: a tailor, a Chinese hair salon, a Korean driving school.

Snowdon is a bit of an odd area, amorphous both in form and character, caught between different places without having much sense of place of its own. The main commercial strip on Queen Mary Road is a jumble of Jamaican hairdressers and kosher restaurants, Filipino churches and Chinese groceries. The long, straight sidestreets, unkempt like a grandfather who forgot to comb his hair, are lined by hydro poles, humble duplexes and brick apartment buildings. St. Joseph’s Oratory stares watchfully at the neighbourhood from the east.

One of the reasons for this sense of confusion is the Décarie Expressway, which bullied its way through the heart of Snowdon in the late 1960s, cutting it in half and replacing a lively streetcar terminus with a sunken six-lane autoroute. Though many of the neighbourhood’s icons survived — the Snowdon Theatre, the Snowdon Deli, the sign atop the old Reitmans department store — and were even joined by a metro station in 1985, Snowdon became one of those places that you pass through on your way to somewhere else; just another exit on the highway.

Still, Snowdon’s sense of place never vanished, it just became more obscure. After I came across the strange apartment building courtyard, I posted some photos on Spacing Montreal and urged Snowdon residents to share their experiences of the neighbourhood. The response was underwhelming; just two replies. Then something unexpected happened. Over the next four years, more than 30 people weighed in with their own detailed memories of Snowdon through the years. The most recent response was posted just a few days ago. The comment thread has become, in the words of Spacing’s Alanah Heffez, “a lively reunion among people whose experiences have overlapped in space if not necessarily in time.”


October 7th, 2011

Morning Coffee: Caffè Portofino, Roma

Posted in Europe by Daniel Corbeil

Via Cola di Rienzo, Roma, iPhone snapshot, Octobre 2011

Il me semble que rien ne frappe d’aplomb comme le soleil et la vitalité romaine. Et spécialement au départ de Paris, ville qui se cherche une définition, alternant entre la bourgeoise snobinarde et faussement moderne et la bohème pathétique et incohérente, formant une armée de poètes et penseurs qui, cigarette appuyée mollement au bec, s’attaquent farouchement à un système capitaliste que pourtant ils façonnent eux-mêmes et encouragent à chaque instant de leur vie. L’esprit de contradiction !

Je suis arrivé sur Roma ce matin, après une nuit folle passée à errer entre la colère et l’épuisement. Hier, un contrôleur français s’est fait attaqué près de Dijon. Cet horrible évènement – ce qui semblerait complètement farfelue en Amérique – poussa l’ensemble des contrôleurs à user – abusivement il me semble – de leur droit de retrait, faisant des centaines de milliers d’otages – ces clients dont j’étais – prient sur les quais bétonnés de Paris. Et laissez-moi vous dire que de trouver un avion à la dernière minute n’est ni facile ni agréable dans cette cité où l’internet ne se trouve pas à chaque coin de rue, comme à New York ou Montréal.

C’est avec le souvenir – et force de croire quelques courbatures – de la nuit passée justement entre deux fauteuils à l’aéroport d’Orly, que je savoure ce caffè si mérité à la terrasse de ce bar d’une grande via du quartier où j’habite l’instant précieux d’un moment.