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weblog archives
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Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Two enquiries into the nature of architecture: the failure of high design, functionalism and benevolent patronship, as Metropolis looks at Columbus, Indiana, a modernist utopia presided over by the well-intentioned J. Irwin Miller (creator of the Cummins Foundation), home to many fine examples of mid-century modern, and now just as lifeless and crime-ridden as many other, lesser-styled, small American towns. Should Cummins' money have been spent on planning Columbus, rather than cherry-picking good design? At the other end of the spectrum, architecture as deliberate spectacle, as Hugh Pearman addresses OMA's 'non-pavilion' for the Serpentine Gallery (Ludwig Abache's photographs of the pavilion's genesis - check the animation). A folly, yes, the creation of which is now an established part of the Serpentine's role, but the tight budgets and deadlines also provide an opportunity for architects and engineers 'to advance the art and science of architecture.'

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More architecture. Should Paris's new Quai Branly museum exist at all? No, says Fiachra Gibbons in the Guardian, this Musee des bogus arts (bet the subs desk was pleased with that): 'Museums are meant to tell stories, and never have more long-abused objects needed theirs told so badly. Instead they are displayed, mostly unlabelled, in one dark vitrine after the next: mute, menacing and inscrutable, all the cliches we should be running headlong from.' The New York Times is equally scathing: 'If the Marx Brothers designed a museum for dark people, they might have come up with the permanent-collection galleries: devised as a spooky jungle, red and black and murky, the objects in it chosen and arranged with hardly any discernible logic, the place is briefly thrilling, as spectacle, but brow-slappingly wrongheaded.' The piece also makes the point that 'Objects are not static; they are the accumulation of all their meanings.' Apparently Quai Branly 'make[s] itself the meaning of everything in it,' a very Victorian notion of museology, and not in the narrative spirit that the modern museum must demonstrate. Consider the Horniman Museum in South London, or the Ashmolean in Oxford, both of which evolved into museums of museology as the 20th century progressed, and have had to reinvent themselves to stay relevant. However, we like the old museums, the treasure cases of objects whose arrangements appear random and spontaneous, places for unexpected discoveries and associations. There's room in the world for both.

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'
Behind the Ever-Expanding American Dream House', an oft-told story of how 'the average American house size has more than doubled since the 1950s; it now stands at 2,349 square feet.' Mother Jones ran a similar story, 'This New House' about a year ago. Our favourite stat from that? 'The Unabomber's legal defense team cited the size of his shack—10' x 12'—to buttress his insanity plea.' (ironic how Theodore J Kaczynski's famous rant against technology and modernity should become one of the most distributed electronic texts. There is also an Italian Unabomber). Back to big houses: the NPR piece quotes Harvard professor John Stilgoe, "The big house represents the atomizing of the American family," he says. "Each person not only has his or her own television - each person has his or her own bathroom. Some of these houses are literally designed with three playrooms for two children."

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Other things. Plates from an 1853 textbook, Naturgeschichte in Bildern (via BibliOdyssey, and the original link) / Noisemechanic and Me-fi music, a great idea which we've only just discovered / goodness, Big Black are reforming / Alain de Botton aims to build on happiness. The author of The Architecture of Happiness is setting up as an 'enlightened' developer. Calling the AJ 'the architect's bible' is a bit rich (although we love the recent redesign by a practice for everyday life / Whiteplane2, an 'ambisonic sound and light installation by Alex Bradley and Charles Poulet' / not about McMansions at all, the Walter Segal Self Build Trust / the spectacularly obtuse weblog, which links to the photoshop experiment, complete with how-tos, etc.