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Tuesday, July 13, 2004
One of the most memorable interviewees in Nathaniel Kahn's My Architect: A Son's Journey (imdb details) was the irrascible character of Edmund Bacon, who worked with Kahn on the late 50s re-structuring of Philadelphia. Bacon got very riled with Kahn Jr, who seemed to be accusing him of failing to take Kahn's Sr's plans for the city on board (big circular multi-storey car parks just outside the city centre, enabling pedestrians to enter the central area without being hassled by motorists).

The camera lingered naughtily on the rather nondescript architecture that Bacon eventually commissioned, much of it by Vincent Kling (whose firm lives on). I came away from the film thinking that Bacon was nothing more than an amusing old school reactionary, the type who thinks that they know better than the public, that amorphous, uneducated mass that knows nothing about the built environment.

But then I found this: Edmund Bacon Skateboards in Protest. Turns out that Bacon, who commissioned Philly's famous LOVE Park, is all in favour of the busy skateboarding scene that centred around the park's smooth marble surfaces (even more bizarrely, it turns out that Bacon is actor Kevin Bacon's father - which pretty much factors in all contemporary architecture and designers into the daft game).

Originally designated John F. Kennedy Plaza, LOVE Park got its common name from Robert Indiana's giant LOVE sculpture, one of several dotted around the US, such as this example at Wichita State University (viewed as part of their excellent Martin H. Bush Outdoor Sculpture Collection).

Back in April 2002, the city banned skateboarding (quicktime panoramas), and the Free LOVE Park campaign began. The park has since gone wireless (to which the skaters replied, "Skaters LOVE wireless too"), and there was even talk of building a replica of the park at one of the Woodward Camps, which is apparently a kind of extreme sports Mecca, Center Parcs with grinding.

It's encouraging to see a planner embrace the skate-led reappropriation of public space, especially when skaters are usually discouraged by any means necessary. Read Iain Borden's Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture and the Body for more about the way in which boarding blends into cities and turns them upside down, finding new ways of using old spaces (interview, review).

All this ferretting around revealed the excellent Philadelphia Buildings website (Kahn biography here). You have to register (and subscribe to see bigger images) but it's a goldmine of information about the city's development, and the myriad unbuilt projects that litter its past (Kahn's vast City Tower Project, and the contentious Civic Center scheme).

Staying with architecture, Hands off Arthur Erickson looks at the legacy of one of Canada's great architects, who, like Kahn, produced works of great formal power and integrity that didn't always flex to accommodate their occupants (although Kahn's later work, as the film makes clear, usually managed to please pretty much everyone - but not even they are immune to change).

Particularly threatened by insensitive additions is Erickson's University of Lethbridge, a monumental concrete slab. Some more images here, and a less iconic view by Tommy Williams, which puts the structure in its wider context. Look at the images on Erickson's own website (especially this) to get a sense of just how important photography is to architecture. The latter image reminded me of the extraordinary Residencia at the European Southern Observatory in Chile, designed by German architects Auer + Weber (Guardian article), very Kahn-like in its scale and ambition).

Elsewhere. A big collection of contemporary art / you too can belong: the Corrugated Iron Club (thanks Tom) / a walk around the congestion charge zone (15 miles - who would have thought) / 12 Rules for Good Cursive Handwriting (via del.icio.us) / the Misuoka Motor Co. makes retro-styled cars for the modern market (thanks, Joao). Download wallpapers here / Itís not carved in stone, a weblog.

Under Consideration, a design and typography forum / more and more and more mp3 blogs at this monkeyfilter post. E.g. the John Hughes Jukebox / 3D paper models from Taiwan, from iMacs to tanks.